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How much is Social Media Influencing Our Youth?
Posted by Emily Pazel

Nowadays, social media is everywhere. And when we say everywhere, that’s exactly what we mean. Not only is it used by billions of people to connect with friends, family and neighbors, it’s also used by thousands of businesses as a digital marketing strategy to collect data, influence shopping trends and ultimately, make a buck or two from you, the consumer.

But what makes it so addicting? Why can’t we seem to put down our phones? And how exactly is it influencing the people around us? In particular – how is it affecting the people most at risk: our younger population?

Reports have shown that 75 percent of American teenagers have social media profiles, and that using social media has become a huge part of a teenager’s normal daily life. Of those using social media, reports have shown that 51 percent of teens visit social networking sites on a daily basis, and that more than a third of teens re-visit their main social networking site several times a day. 1 in 4 teens have even shown trends of being a heavy social media user, which means using at least two different types of social media each day. 

Is social media influencing bad social behaviors and causing increased anxiety and lowering self-esteem? Let’s take a deeper look.

What is social media doing to our children?

On the surface, social media seems like a harmless virtual platform for users to interact with each other and connect. So, what’s the harm in that? When you take a deeper look, however, you will find various reasons as to why social media might be doing more harm than good. For many teens, social media can become almost addictive. Researchers found that certain regions of the teenage brain became activated by “likes” on social media, causing them to increase their use of it.

Another mind-triggering tactic social media uses is the notification trick. When you see a notification waiting for you, your brain automatically wants to check and see what it is. It could be a new “Like” or “Share” on your post, or even a new friend request waiting for you to accept. But once your eyes see the new notification, your brain triggers you to open it. It’s also known as the “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO tactic.

Even though these might not seem like harmful tactics, they can play a role in your teen’s development. Here are a few of the repercussions behind too much use of social media:

  • Indirect communication: Although teens aren’t always great communicators, social media has made it worse; Once kids are at home and their homework is completed, they may spend hours texting, sharing, trolling, scrolling, etc. until bedtime. On the surface this may not seem bad, but what it’s doing is cutting out real, in-person social interaction. Cutting this out creates a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even vocal reactions are invisible and therefore, things can be easily miscommunicated and misconstrued.
  • Cyber bullying & imposter syndrome: Although bullying has been around for years and years, cyber bullying has taken cruel behavior to new levels. It’s much easier to be mean and awful online, especially when you don’t have to see that person in order to be mean. Researchers believe that girls in particular tend to be more mean to each other online because they are constantly comparing each other and may be more vulnerable.
  • Stalking (and being ignored): When people are on social media, they are constantly updating their status, sharing what they’re doing and even have apps that let their friends know their specific location. Even if someone isn’t reaching out directly, you know that person isn’t far away and will text back when you do reach out, and this could leave kids feeling hyper connected with each other. It can also be the exact opposite. Instead of someone getting mad and trying to have a conversation in person to fix, people can just “ghost” them and end the conversation. This could leave kids often imagining the worst about themselves.
  • Depression & Anxiety: Although there isn’t a direct link between depression and social media, researchers are gaining momentum in this theory. They have found, however, that it can be associated with an intensification of symptoms of depression, including a decrease in social activity and an increase in loneliness. Teens also feel pressure to respond quickly online, as well as have perfect photos and well-written posts, which can cause anxiety.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Social media can have a tendency to suck you into long hours of scrolling, liking, sharing, posting, etc., and it’s easy to lose valuable sleep. By losing sleep, it can cause all kinds of bad problems, such as being moody, dropping grades, overeating, as well as worsen existing problems like depression, anxiety, and ADD.

So, maybe you have a teenage son or daughter who’s experiencing some cyber bullying or spending countless hours on social media and not enough on homework. Are there ways to fix the problem? Is social media something that a parent can control?

Protecting your teen

Living in a world with social media at your side 24/7 is a world people never would have dreamt of a few decades ago. However, it’s a very real world that our kids are growing up in today’s society. And it may be affecting them more than you may know. Thankfully, there are a few steps that you can take to encourage responsible use of social media:

  • Set reasonable limits: Discuss different ways with your teen about how to avoid letting social media interfere with his or her activities, sleep, meals or homework. Try to encourage bedtime routines that avoid using their phones; You can even take a step further and try to encourage them to keep cellphones and tablets out of their rooms. Set an example by following these rules yourself.
  • Monitor accounts: If you allow your teen to use social media, let them know you’ll be regularly checking his or her social media accounts. Try to check it once a week or more, and be sure to follow through with this.
  • Explain bad behavior: Instead of banning them completely from social media, try discouraging them from partaking in bad behaviors, such as gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying or damaging someone’s reputation. Also talk to them about what is appropriate and safe to share on social media and what is not.
  • Talk about social media: Talk about your own social media habits; ask your teen how he or she is using social media and how it makes him or her feel. You should also try to remind them that social media is full of unrealistic images.

You should also keep in mind that not all of social media is bad. In fact, allowing your teens to use it can help them create identities, communicate with others and build social networks, which in return can help provide them with support. Social media also encourages teens to check out current events, interact across geographic barriers, as well as teaches them about self-expression.

Being a teenager – as you may recall – isn’t always easy. Teenagers today have an extra layer of social baggage at their fingertips all the time. The weight on their shoulders is immense, and it’s up to us to help them. So, if your teen is experiencing any signs of anxiety or depression, try to get them help right away. And remember, using social media doesn’t have to be a bad thing if used the right way.