Did you know?
A report by Common Sense found:
- 51 percent of teens visit social networking sites on a daily basis.
- More than a third of teens visit their main social networking site several times a day.
- 1 in 4 teens is a heavy social media user, using at least two different types of social media each day. (June, 2019)
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snap Chat can be great ways for teens to connect with one another; but social media can be problematic for several reasons. For instance, social media can expose your teen to cyberbullying, slut shaming, and so much more. And, while there are some benefits to social media, there are a lot of risks as well.
How is social media impacting our teens’ brains?
In a recent study, researchers at the UCLA brain mapping center used an fMRI scanner to image the brains of 32 teenagers as they used a bespoke social media app resembling Instagram. “When teens learn that their own pictures have supposedly received a lot of likes, they show significantly greater activation in parts of the brain’s reward circuitry,” says lead author Lauren Sherman. “This is the same group of regions responding when we see pictures of a person we love or when we win money.”
Sherman believes these results could have important implications among this age group. “Reward circuitry is thought to be particularly sensitive in adolescence,” says Sherman, “It could be explaining, at least in part, why teens are such avid social media users.”
Adolescence is a period that is very important for social learning, which could explain why teens are often more tuned in to what’s going on in their respective cultures. With the rise of social media, Sherman thinks we may even be learning to read likes and shares instead of facial expressions.
“Before, if you were having a face to face interaction everything is qualitative. You use someone’s gestures or facial expressions, that sort of thing, to see how effective your message is,” she says. “Now if you go online, one of the ways that you gauge the effectiveness of your message is in the number of likes, favorites or retweets, and this is something that’s really different and unique about online interaction.”
What effect is social media having on teens’ mental health?
Here are areas of negative impact:
Researchers are just beginning to establish a link between depression and social media. While they have not actually discovered a cause and effect relationship between social media and depression, they have discovered that social media use can be associated with an intensification of the symptoms of depression, including a decrease in social activity and an increase in loneliness.
Teens often feel emotionally invested in their social media accounts. Not only do they feel pressure to respond quickly online, but they also feel pressure to have perfect photos and well-written posts, all of which can cause a great deal of anxiety. In fact, some studies have found that the larger a teen’s social circle online the more anxiety they feel about keeping up with everything online.
It takes a lot of time and effort to keep up with the unspoken rules and culture of each social media platform. As a result, this puts additional pressure on teens, which can cause feelings of anxiety.
Sometimes teens spend so many hours on social media that they begin to lose valuable sleep. Consequently, this sleep loss can lead to moodiness, a drop in grades, and overeating, as well as exacerbate existing problems like depression, anxiety, and ADD.
While social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, it also is not the same as face-to-face communication. For instance, a teen cannot see a person’s facial expressions or hear their tone of voice online. As a result, it is very easy for misunderstandings to occur, especially when people try to be funny or sarcastic online.
Many teens spend so much time online checking statuses and likes that they forget to interact with the people right in front of them. For this reason, friendships and dating relationships can suffer when social media takes center stage in a person’s life. As a result, teens risk having relationships that are not deep or authentic.
What can you do to help your teens?
Parenting today has a lot more complexity than it did for previous generations. The addition of the Internet, cell phones, and other forms of technology not only add more to think about but a faster pace of change.
New social media sites crop up daily, apps are appearing like weeds, and access is ever-present. It’s overwhelming to stay on top of it, and nearly impossible to monitor everything. Still, while it seems easiest to throw your hands up in the air, the best thing to do is to learn as much as you can and arm yourself with knowledge. You may not be able to watch everything, but sometimes the key is just to show that you’re paying attention at all.
The list of concerns for digital parenting are long, but here are some of the basics with information, tips, and resources for all of them.
- Collect all devices and turn them off before bed. Store and charge them together in a central location or, if necessary, in the parents’ bedroom.
- Help kids understand the dangers of sexting and cyberbullying. Teach them to report inappropriate behavior to you or another adult.
- Start kids out with simple phones with no data plan. Once they’ve shown responsibility for those devices, consider graduating them to a more expensive phone.
- Keep an ongoing dialogue with your kids about social media. Maybe ask them for a tutorial on their favorite site. Not only is that empowering for them, it helps you understand why they enjoy a site and how they use it.
- Don’t deliberately try to embarrass or humiliate your kids – it sends a poor message about appropriate behavior and it’s not something you can take back later.
- Be thoughtful about what you share online, both in terms of what your kids can see, but also what you’re saying about them.
- Take cyberbullying and other inappropriate online behaviors seriously.
- The most important things to remember are:
- Talk with your kids about concerns and dangers, but also listen to what they have to say.
- Be involved. Know what they are doing online and how all of the social media sites work.
- Set rules and boundaries just like everything else. Kids will cross them, but they still need to know where the lines are.
What might be things to include in the Family Rules?
Keep devices for social media access out of the bedroom.
Children who get in trouble online often do so when their means of access – phone, iPad, computer – are located in the bedroom. To avoid this, only allow your teen to access social media outside of the bedroom.
Follow set time limits for social media usage.
One reason you should set time limits, says Madeline Levine, is that when teens spend too much time online they are not able to spend time doing things like building relationships and collaborating with other people. An hour on social media sites may not be bad at the end of the day. However, spending all afternoon chatting with friends online rather than going outside and spending actual time with friends can be.
Allow mom and dad to friend and follow.
Before permitting your child to access social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Yalda T. Uhls suggests setting up the rule that you are to be their friend on these sites. This way you can monitor the content they are putting out to the world.
Give parents their passwords to devices and social media sites.
Tina Meier notes the only way to know for sure what your children are doing online is to have access to their accounts. You can tell your children that while you aren’t going to check every day, you will monitor usage.
Post appropriate content and images only.
Kids don’t understand that what goes out onto the Internet is often there to stay. Even social media sites like SnapChat, which was originally created to allow users to send a quick impermanent photo or message to friends, can be made permanent by taking a screenshot, says Uhls. You need to tell your teen that whatever is posted to social media – pictures, short blurbs of how they feel, words about others – should be posted with the idea that the information or images will be available to anyone, anywhere and at any time – because, in all likelihood, they are.
Prepare for consequences when these rules are broken.
If your child gets caught online in the bedroom or is found to have sent something inappropriate to friends via social media, consequences should be in place and followed. This may mean losing the device used to access social media for a set period of time or losing access to the social media account altogether.
Keep private information private.
The advent of social media has made ‘meeting’ strangers so easy that teenagers, and people of all ages, often forget these are really strangers they are talking to. It’s imperative parents teach teens to utilize social media safely. This means never giving out private information if a stranger could obtain that information. And if a stranger ‘friends’ your teen on Facebook, Theresa M. recommends asking your teen to unfriend this person in case his or her intentions are not good.
“Social Media sites creates [an] illusion of connectivity.” Malay Shah, TheDailyMind.com
“Distracted from distraction by distraction.” T.S. Eliot, TheDailyMind.com
Resources for Parents