CHARLOTTE – Social media is a tool that can offer many benefits for adolescents to be able to connect with peers, but there are also dangers associated with the impact that these platforms have on our youth. For the last few years, studies on the effects of social media on our adolescents have been confirming what experts already knew. These platforms are causing depression, anxiety, body image concerns, and suicidal thoughts. Most often these studies determined that young girls are experiencing the impact more than young males. Social media is a powerful tool and allows people, in general, to be able to connect and network with resources that would not have been in the hands of our youth years ago. It is important for parents and adults to help keep kids safe and informed of the threats that these platforms present.
The challenge with social influences is not a new issue for our youth. At one time it was magazines that they saw at grocery stores or what their parents were reading, then images or behaviors that they saw on television. Social media just makes the influence more impactful because of the accessibility and frequency of use. This has caused issues that are detrimental to the self-esteem of our adolescents. As parents and adults, we need to be present in the use of social media and help children understand the process of how to keep themselves safe from those strong feelings or threats.
Parents with younger children that have access to social media need to be active in modeling good social media practices. The best way to do this is by sharing your experiences with social media. Share with them how to treat others online with best practices as if you were in person or chatting virtually. Make sure to share with them an experience that can help them model the behavior; sharing a story about a personal experience that you have had. Talking about the expectations and setting boundaries to help set up the healthy barriers for younger children makes the experience more real for them. Often being behind a screen can cause a disconnection with a person or how someone treats others in the moment. Modeling and setting boundaries, along with sharing experiences, allows them to understand the threats that social media platforms can present. Plus explaining how to manage those feelings or thoughts along with sharing with an adult can set children up for being able to manage a healthy social media presence.
Helping older children manage their social media presence can be much more of a challenge. They often will push back and dismiss adult advice along with pushing back on boundaries that have been set for them. This should not be a breaking point between your child and yourself. That is when it is time to be the most present in their lives and actively be present to maintain the communication that is needed for them to have a successful social media presence. It is important to always remain consistent with monitoring and setting boundaries; even when they push back, “don’t throw it out.” Communicate with them that the internet never forgets anything. Communication, pictures, posts, and more can always be found on the internet. Jaren Doby, MSW, LCSW, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for Novant Health Psychiatric Associates advocates for both children, young adults, and adults to always “Mind Your Media Manners.”
“Minding Your Media Manners” is very important for everyone with a presence on all social media platforms. Having a social media account gives an audience that may not normally have involvement in your life. These platforms show your likes, dislikes, and pictures of friends and family along with activities that you may be doing. It is important to maintain a social media account with this in mind. Remember to make sure that you are always being a role model for your children and others.
Children and young adults with social media accounts are not always easy to manage, but the key to success is communication with them. Always look to see how they are using the account, make adaptations to the plan to keep them successful, and work to create a plan to be proactive on issues that they may encounter. The impact of social media on adolescents is not a one size fits all navigation. It takes communication, being an active role model, and paying attention to their actions to understand how it is affecting them. Always watch for warning signs: mood-changing (both sad and over happily), sleep patterns, new friends, and their interaction with you. Conversions about social media need to happen early and often.
More information and helpful guides to healthy social media use for adolescents can be found at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/teens-and-social-media-use/art-20474437 and https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects-teenagers/