By Leslie Nicholson | Guest Writer
The topic of social media and teens brings up all kinds of debate, fear, and discussion among parents. How much should we monitor our kids’ phone use? Is it harmful to their brains? How is the “wild west” of social media ever going to be deemed safe when our kids have access to information and people around the world?
The disconnect we may feel with our teens widens when it comes to social media. They speak using Internet slang foreign to most parents, and their hours of texting and screen time create a battleground.
The Internet is overflowing with good advice for parents about social media and teens. But what do teens have to say? Talking directly to them lends a new, important perspective.
On Wednesday, March 27, from 6-8 p.m. at Sonoma Valley High School, there is a forum for parents and teens on Parenting in the Age of Social Media. Students are encouraged to attend and participate in the discussion.
The uncharted territory of social media cannot be understood without frank conversations. I had the chance to speak to two teenage girls about social media, my daughter and her friend (who requested to remain anonymous.) They talked and I listened. The girls I interviewed represent two voices in a world of teens. But I found their comments enlightening and direct. They too have concerns about social media, and are using common sense in navigating the Internet. I appreciated their willingness to open up about a topic that can sometimes be divisive in parent-teen relationships.
It was interesting that the girls made a number of comments that align directly with statistics compiled by Common Sense Media (italicized).
Teens with low social-emotional well-being experience more of the negative effects of social media, which include feeling more lonely, more depressed, or feeling worse about themselves.
The girls felt strongly about this point. “Kids who make irresponsible choices look at this as a way to become popular,” said one of the girls. “They think that having a bad reputation on social media is a way to draw attention to themselves. Most other kids see it as rude and immature. But for some kids this is how they want to be known because they see it as the only way to be accepted.”
Another way that teens try to use social media to gain status is by creating a big list of followers, often buying their followers – something the girls indicated is a danger area.
“You have to be able to set boundaries for yourself and only accept people you actually know. Following random people is how trouble starts and social media becomes dangerous. Kids have to see being on social media as a privilege. If they have issues with immaturity and low self-esteem, the Internet makes connecting with the wrong people and fulfilling their need for attention and acceptance a place where things can go very wrong. Good choices and limiting your social media friends will keep you out of trouble. Keep your accounts private. Don’t follow a bunch of random people,” commented one of the girls.
35% of teens have been cyber-bullied, and being bullied is associated with depression, anxiety, and increased risk of suicidal thoughts.
Cyber-bullying, according to the teens, is something that mostly happens in a private online chat between two people. “People who are being cyber-bullied need to talk to their friends about what is going on. Otherwise, their friends may not even know,” one girl said. “Communicating with friends you can trust, when something is going wrong on social media, is so important for kids to remember.”
Girls are more impacted by social media than boys are; it can cause feelings of envy and increase feelings of insecurity.
“I think girls are definitely more likely to have self-esteem issues from what they see on the Internet than boys,” according to my daughter’s friend. “There are a lot of super models posting on social media. Girls use these images as a standard of measurement for themselves, which makes them feel negative and depressed about who they are and what they look like.”
Work with them to find supportive online communities and discuss how to post and use the Internet responsibly and safely. Talk with them about the potential impact of posting all aspects of your life on social media may have for the future, especially in regards to careers.
The teens agreed strongly with the advice from Common Sense Media about what they refer to as “histories.” “If you don’t want your Mom to see it, don’t post it,” they both agreed. “Don’t post things that you might regret later. Use common sense. You don’t want your history to come back to haunt you.”
32% of teens report having daily arguments with their parents over device use.
As for the topic of parents monitoring their teen’s social media account, the girls stated that if someone has nothing to hide, a parent should be able to look at their teen’s social media accounts. Both girls are aware that being trusted by their parents vs. parents feeling their teens are safe is a huge issue that all teens and parents grapple with.
“Monitoring teens locations with apps like Life360 is seen as a positive thing parents can do,” they said. “But teens do not want to feel coddled and want to be seen as young adults who have to face the consequences for their mistakes. Learning to be responsible is key for any teens using social media,” according to one of the girls.
Above all, become part of the conversation and take steps toward finding common ground in this age of high-tech devices.
Leslie Nicholson is founder and Executive Director of RISK Sonoma. Risksonoma.com.