How Social Media Affects Teen Development

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Teenagers using social media on cell phones

How Social Media Affects Teenagers

In this day and age, children and teenagers are being raised in a different world than their parents were. When we were kids, we rode bikes, played card games with friends, and had never even heard the words “social media.” Teenagers these days are being raised in a tech world.

By the time a child is 13 years old, they will often already have at least one social media account. This means that more and more teenagers are pulling away from face to face contact in order to engage with their peers and others digitally.

With all of the changes that teenagers these days face – particularly when compared with our teen years – it can be very difficult to understand how all of this affects them. We didn’t live through these times because this is really the first generation who has. It is all new, so you should know what you and your child are getting yourselves into – behaviorally, mentally, physically, and everything in between.

Social Media Increases Anxiety and Depression

Social media is a place where people can share whatever they want and be whoever they want to be. It does not have to be reality and it can be any persona that someone chooses. Because of this, when teens post on social media or read other statuses on social media, they begin to feel more vulnerable. This last decade is the first time in history that an entire generation of youngsters can be reached and “loved” or “bullied” within the walls of their own home. 

Social media allows people to hide behind computer screens. When one has that anonymity and/or protection, people do and say things that they likely wouldn’t say in person. A single photo of a child winning an award or eating an ice cream cone can become the subject of ridicule in seconds.

When a teen becomes the victim of cyberbullying – or even rude comments here and there – they are at an increased risk for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Just think how one negative comment on your own social media can ruin your day. Then add all of the hormones, feelings of helplessness and confusion of a teenager to the mix. It can make for a very painful situation. 

In order to help combat this, pay close attention to who your teen is “friends” with on each social media platform and insist that you are among those friends. This will give you a bit of insight and enable you to help talk through any issues that you can see. 

Social Media Increases Detached Friendships

When teenagers start to gain more and more connections online, they tend appreciate the value of “real life” friendships less and less. Hanging out after school and going out for coffee become things of the past while everyone has their noses in their phones.

When they have 500 online “friends,” your teen may start to feel like they have tons of friendships. At the same time, they may feel lonely and secretly wonder who they can confide in – or when. With everyone uploading photos and living primarily in a digital-relationship world, there are not as many people who are physically in each other’s company after school or on weekends. This type of situation can lead to more detached, unhealthy or even fake friendships with people who your child has met, but may not really know. 

Social Media Encourages Instant Gratification 

Think about how good it feels when someone likes or comments on something you’ve posted. Now imagine a world where you’ve never known anything different. Social media creates the need and desire for instant rewards or instant gratification. It is something that can feel almost addictive as you wait for the response from your community of friends. Unfortunately, this need for instant gratification can bleed into the rest of life as well. 

Since social media thrives on liking others posts and getting attention, teenagers may start to have the desire and expectation for more instant rewards in their real-world interactions. It takes time to find a job, buy a home or develop a romantic relationship. These things don’t happen within an hour or two. They also typically don’t happen during your first interview, house showing or date. It just isn’t realistic. 

When we believe that everything should be happening quickly and within a certain time-frame, we lose the ability to appreciate the real things. We miss the little moments of a relationship or the constructive criticism that an interviewer may offer. Social media encourages that need for satisfaction in an instant, and it is important to learn how to manage both scenarios. 

Social Media Inspires Dangerous Activity

With a focus on getting more and more likes or hearts and other forms of instant gratification, teenagers may attempt to push their boundaries to the limit. They are often looking for new ways to impress their friends – and that doesn’t always end well. 

If you have been listening to the radio, news or paying attention to your own social media, you may be aware of reckless challenges like the Tide Pod challenge and/or the Bird Box challenge. Watching their friends eat Tide Pods (which can land them in the emergency room) or drive while blindfolded (which can be lethal) encourages your teen to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do. But if it gets likes and hearts, in their minds, it might be worth it for the moment. 

Social Media Increases Communication Issues

Since social media doesn’t require a face to face connection or communication style, many teenagers are missing out on learning the necessary skills. The often text and communicate on social platforms in lettered conversations (i.e. IDK, U NO, Be4, etc.) and are developing issues with both literacy and in-person connections. 

Most jobs require you to communicate somewhat effectively and many require actual writing and language skills. While the shorthand has become an easy means of communicating with others online, spelling and grammatical errors can be a real life issue that will hinder one’s future. 

There Are Some Benefits to Social Media

With all of this said, there are some benefits to social media. Having a group of people accessible at one’s fingertips is a great way to potentially build some confidence and feel like part of a community. If you live in a rural area or your children are homeschooled, social media can be the way for your teen to keep in touch with family and friends. Social media can also be an excellent way for a teen to express themselves. 

There are decisions that parents have to make as to what the healthiest choices are for their children. After assessing the costs and benefits of social media for your child in particular, see if there are ways to encourage positive relationships and expressions while helping to protect them from the issues that may arise. Encourage them to write in full sentences (if only to you!) and get together with friends in person. 

Even though our teenagers are older than they used to be as little kids, they are still children. It is a parent’s responsibility to monitor everything and step in when we see troubles arising. They aren’t able to see as far into the future as you can, so help to build that insight for them. 

Teens may benefit from the use and knowledge of social media, but becoming overly engaged with the instant gratification can be a detriment to their future. Moderation is usually the key, so encourage them to have responsible fun, but make sure that they are also able to develop real, offline goals for their future. In order to do that, they will have to know how to communicate, interact and engage with people just as well in person as they do online. 

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