How the use of social networks affects teenagers

Many parents are concerned about how exposure to technology might affect young children’s development. We know that our preschoolers acquire new social and cognitive skills at an amazing rate, and we don’t want spending hours glued to an electronic device getting in the way. But adolescence is an equally important and rapidly developing period. Too few of us pay attention to how our teens’ use of technology (much more intense and intimate than that of a 3-year-old playing with his dad’s phone) is affecting them. Experts fear that social networking and texting, which have become essential to teenage life, are fueling anxiety and lowering self-esteem.

Many essay topics are devoted to this issue, and recent research suggests that this could be a good cause for concern. A survey by the Royal Society of Public Health asked 14-24 year olds in the UK how social media platforms are affecting their health and well-being. The survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.

Teens can stay busy hours after school and even long after bedtime. When they’re not doing their homework (and when they are), they’re online and on their phones, texting, sharing, trolling, scrolling, whatever.

Of course, before everyone had an Instagram account, teenagers were busy too, but they were more likely to talk on the phone or in person when they were at the mall. While it seemed like many pointless meetings, they experimented, tested skills, succeeded and failed in hundreds of small, real-time interactions that today’s kids have to catch up on. Modern teenagers, for their part, learn to communicate by looking primarily at a screen, not at another person.

The other great danger of more indirect communication between children is that it has become easier to be cruel. “Children send all kinds of messages that they wouldn’t say to anyone’s face,” says Donna Wick, EdD, a clinical and developmental psychologist. She notes that this is especially true for girls, who generally don’t like contradicting their “real life” friends.

READ :  Jake Paul fight: Breaking down the undefeated social media star's strengths and weaknesses in the ring

Peer acceptance is crucial for teenagers, and many of them care as much about their image as it does a politician running for office, and it can feel so serious for them. Add to that the fact that kids today are getting real survey data about how much people like them or how they look, through things like ‘likes’. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin – who doesn’t want to look “better” when they can? So kids can spend hours clipping their identities online and trying to project an idealized image. Teenage girls sort through hundreds of photos and are very afraid of which ones to put online. Teenage boys compete for attention, trying to outdo each other and pushing the limits as much as possible in the uninhibited online atmosphere. They ally each other.

Teens have always done this, but with the advent of social networking, they face more opportunities and more pitfalls than ever before. When kids check social media posts and see how good everyone looks, it only adds to the pressure. We’re used to worrying about the impractical ideals that digitally retouched magazine models instill in our kids, but what happens when the kid next door is also retouched? Even more confusing, what happens when our profile doesn’t represent the person we feel like?

Another big change with new technologies, especially smartphones, is that we are never truly alone. Kids update their status, share what they see, hear and read, and have apps that let their friends know their exact location on a map at any time. Even if someone isn’t trying to keep their friends updated, they’re always within reach of a text message. The result is that children feel hyper-connected. The conversation never has to stop, and there’s always something new happening.

READ :  FTC to Digital Media Advertisers: It’s Time to Protect Kids | Venable LLP

Everyone needs a break from the demands of intimacy and connection, alone time to reorganize, re-energize or just relax. If you don’t have that, it’s easy to become emotionally drained and become fertile ground for anxiety.

Likewise, it’s surprisingly easy to feel lonely in the midst of all this hyper-connectedness. For one thing, children now know with depressing certainty when they are being ignored. We all have phones and react to things fairly quickly, so the silence can be deafening as you wait for an answer that doesn’t come. The silence can be a strategic insult or just the unfortunate side effect of a teenage online relationship that starts out intense but then fizzles out.

“It used to be that a kid had to talk to you if they wanted to break up with you. Or at least he had to call,” says Dr. Wick. “Nowadays it could disappear off your screen and you could never talk about it… what have I done?” Children often imagine the worst about themselves.

But even if the conversation is not interrupted, constant vigilance can cause anxiety. We can feel left out and we leave others out, and our human need to communicate is also effectively delegated in this way.

Both experts interviewed for this article agreed that the best thing parents can do to minimize the risks associated with technology is to first reduce their own use. It’s up to parents to set an excellent example of what healthy computer use looks like. Most of us check our phones or email very frequently, either out of genuine interest or nervous habit. Children should be used to seeing our faces, not our heads bent over a screen. Establish tech-free zones around the house and tech-free times when no one is on the phone, including mom and dad. “Don’t walk out the door in the middle of a conversation when you get home from work,” advises Dr. Steiner-Adair. “Don’t walk out the door when you get home from work, just say ‘hello’ and then ‘just start checking your email.’ Get up half an hour before your kids and then check your email. Give them your full attention until they walk out the door. And neither of you should be using your phone on your way to or from school because that is an important time to talk.”

READ :  All the News That's Fit to Tweet: The Top Social Networks for News, Ranked

Limiting the time you spend with computers is not only a healthy counterpoint to the technology-obsessed world, but it also strengthens parent-child bonds and makes children feel safer. Children need to know that you are available to help them with their problems, to talk about their day, or to give them realistic perspective.

Outside of online services, the best advice for helping children develop healthy self-esteem is to get involved in something that interests them. It could be sports or music, or disassembling computers or volunteering, anything that sparks interest and gives them confidence. When children learn to feel good about what they can do, rather than their looks and possessions, they are happier and better prepared to succeed in real life. The fact that most of these activities also include personal exchanges with peers is just the icing on the cake.