The Impact of Social Media on Teenagers
It's no secret that social media has become a major player in our teenagers' lives.
A recent study of teenagers revealed that of the 9 million teens in America, almost all are active on social media.
As an adult who has known plenty of teenagers, I am well aware of how much time they spend online. But what I found most interesting about this study is that it not only showed just how popular social media is with teenagers but also the reason why.
The main reasons for using social media among these 9 million teens were to chat with friends and stay connected, followed by entertainment purposes such as listening to music and watching videos.
The next top two were getting advice and opinions from others (like their peers) and then looking at pictures.
According to the study, "Overall, four out of five teenagers agree that people their age find out about life through social media."
This study also found that even though social media has such a huge role in today's teenagers' lives, half of the respondents reported having seen mean and hurtful comments on social media.
The researchers concluded that while it is evident that people their age find out about life through social media, it's equally obvious that many teens have been or will be impacted by these negative online experiences.
So why are teenagers so drawn to social media
Social Media and Our Teens
The reason why teens are so attracted to social media is simple.
It's because it offers teenagers a place where they are free to express themselves without judgement, which is something many struggle with in their daily lives.
Getting rid of this fear of judgement can easily become an addiction for these teens because it gives them the opportunity to show only the best version of themselves.
The problem with social media starts when our teenagers bring that fear of being judged into real-life environments, not knowing how to distinguish between what's real and what isn't online.
These negative effects follow our teenagers back onto social media where their hearts might start beating faster when they get tagged in a post or hear about someone else commenting on their profile; all the while ignoring the fact that it was all done behind an electronic screen without having seen or spoken to the people who judged them.
Not only does this cause our teenagers anxiety and stress, but it can also lead to depression and even suicide.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, approximately Depression is thought to occur in around 1-3 % of children and young people. Anybody can suffer from depression and it happens in people of all ages, races, income levels and educational levels. Teenage girls are twice as likely as teenage boys to be depressed.
How Does it Affect Their Mental Health?
Because of the mental strain social media puts on our teenagers, it can have a serious impact on their mental health.
According to NEDA, "Depression is a clinical term for a combination of symptoms that may include persistent sadness or irritability, loss of interest in activities once found pleasurable, changes in appetite and/or weight, problems sleeping or oversleeping), feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly, fatigue and restlessness."
All these symptoms relate closely to those who suffer from depression as well as those who spend an obsessive amount of time online.
As we know, suicide does not only affect those left behind after someone takes their life but instead ruins the lives of everyone close to this person.
According to NEDA, "Suicide is a serious public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States.
It is estimated that there are 38,000 suicides each year in this country."
In fact, suicide is currently the second most common cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 years old.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that from 1980-1995, suicide was one of three causes of death among 10-24-year-olds that had increased dramatically; while it has stayed relatively consistent since then with around 4,600 deaths per year.
Our teenagers might not be able to read about all these statistics on social media or see them on their newsfeeds, yet they are constantly reminded of them by their peers.
How Can We Make a Change?
The impact of social media on teenagers is first and foremost an issue that should be discussed between parents and children, as opposed to discussed between teachers and students.
Parents should talk with their teens about what they read on social media because it's part of the teen's reality; just like your rules as parents are part of theirs.
It is important for parents not only to regulate how much time our teenagers spend online but also to teach them not to compare themselves to others who might come across as perfect or even happy when in fact they aren't anything close to those traits.
The conversation shouldn't end there either. As parents, we also need to be open and honest about how social media affects us as adults.
According to the Pew Research Center, "31% of online adults use multiple social networking sites, while 30% do not use any of these sites."
While this number might seem low compared to the total amount of online adult Americans, it does show that our society is deeply affected by social media and that even parents should be conscious about how much time they're spending on Twitter and Facebook every day.
It is important for parents to remember that just because something can't be seen with their own eyes doesn't mean it isn't real.
If you don't have a teenager yourself but are looking after someone else's child, please limit their time on social media just as you would any other electronic device.
Tips for staying safe on social media
- Set your profiles to private - This is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself online. This will limit the chances that strangers can see your information but will also prevent other teens from seeing your personal information, pictures, etc.
- Don't give out personal information - Just because someone else shares their telephone number or address online does not mean it is okay for you to share yours.
- Remember anything you post can be shared - It is important to remember that anything you post on the Internet is most likely capable of being shared with an unlimited amount of people, so think before you click "post."
- Don't share pictures you wouldn't want your parents/teachers/boss seeing - This isn't just about racy photos. Anything you put online can come back to haunt you later in life when colleges or employers are checking up on you. Even if they don't report personal information that might be posted there's always a chance someone will forward something along to them if it fits their needs.
- Use an alias - If possible, use an alias instead of sharing your true name on social media sites. This way strangers won't know who you really are but your close friends will still be able to find you.
- Be mindful of what others post about you - While it might be easy for one to say "that stranger isn't even real" when judging their posts or pictures, remember that anyone can post anything online regardless of whether they are real or fake. So don't let the fact that someone's page is full of hate speech fool you into thinking they're not capable of being physically dangerous too.
- Just because certain behaviours are common on social media sites, doesn't mean it's okay for your child to do them as well. When talking with your children about staying safe online, teach them that there are consequences for any negative behaviour displayed on social networking sites and everything posted online is permanent.
- Block anyone who bothers you - If someone is bothering you on social media, block them immediately. Don't engage them or try to "get back" at them. Just go on with your life and forget they exist.
- Don't access websites that are blocked - Some schools have selected social network sites as off-limits for students while others might have blocked the entire Internet in favour of books. If you're lucky enough to still use Facebook then enjoy it, otherwise there are plenty of other things out there that can keep you entertained without having to use up any more time than already required by school assignments.
So, there you have it, some helpful tips on how to protect yourself and your child on social media.
With the help of these simple guidelines, you'll be able to keep them safe online without losing precious time that can be spent doing other things.