Recently I have been receiving questions from my clients, whether parents themselves or teenagers, about teenagers & social media. As a family therapist I have dealt with my share of school bullying and cyber bullying. Social media problems with teenagers is on the rise.
Several weeks ago a 14 year old female client complained that she was grounded by her parents. This teen was supposed to have her girl friends over for a sleep over. During the night her parents woke up by some noise and checked on the teens. To their surprise they found three boys in their underwear jumping out of the window. This teen stated in her defense: “I didn’t even know the guys. I just met them on kick.” Since the boys were in the neighborhood the girls invited them in.
Another 14-year-old female client of mine was just discharged from the hospital for suicidal ideations after posting a video on a social media app of herself singing. Soon after she posted the video she received several insulting comments about her looks and voice. Some teens posted that she should kill herself.
Most Teens tell me that they are allowed to use their smart phones during class by their teachers. Many teens are proud to show me their portfolio of Selfies wearing little clothing in provocative poses. Although I find these facts alarming and concerning, most of the parents of my teen clients don’t find this concerning.
Statistics about teens and social media are constantly outdated by the fact that new social media apps are available faster than research studies can keep up with. In 2012 58 % of teens between 13 and 17 years of age owned a smart phone. According to edudemic.com in 2013 teens (8-18 years) spend about 10 hours and 45 min / day, seven days a week using social media apps.
This is more time than someone would spend at a full time job or sleeping. Often teens juggle more than one social medium at once – sending texts, tweeting, watching TV, or listening to the radio. The rapid increase in amount of time spent using social media and its possible effects are of great concern to scientists, teachers, and parents. Media Psychology is now an official sub-specialty in the field of psychology. Recent studies validate the reality of Internet Addiction.
Some concerns of scientists and educators’ about the effects of constantly using social media are:
- Attention spans are decreasing because of exposure to excessively stimulating and fast paced media
- Exposure to media violence causes desensitization to violence.
- Media assisted crimes like child pornography are taking new forms.
- Average number of hours sleeping at night decreases.
- Amount of time spending real face-to-face interaction decreases.
- Average amount of time doing homework decreases.
- Number of eating disorder increases due to emphasis placed on body image and looks when posting selfies or commenting on selfies.
- Pictures of teens under the influence are being glorified by teens and increase behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and substance abuse.
- Teens are being sexualized at a much earlier age, due to being encouraged and provoked by each other to post provocative pictures of each other or to perform sexual acts on each other.
The bottom line is teens seek the validation of other teens to establish a sense of identity. The selfie has become a modern obsession with teens. Teens can post pictures of themselves in any situation for the entire world to see and comment on. With social media platforms friends or followers by the hundreds can easily like or dislike their perception of your teen’s selfie or statement as often as they like, and at any time they like, in conjunction with and in front of the entire social media community.
What can parents do?
- Don’t let your teen navigate social media platforms without your guidance and limits.
- Check on minimum age requirements and privacy settings.
- Teach your child how to use selfies and social media as a positive tool for self-expression and how to communicate with a purpose. Ask your teen: “what are you trying to communicate with this statement, picture, or video?”
- Ask your teen to only share selfies with “real” friends.
- Empower your teen to explore his/her strengths and develop skills.
- Teach your teen to use social media as an educational tool.
- Keep communication between you and your teen about healthy online behavior open.
- Encourage your child to use apps and social media that are age appropriate and do not allow your teens to use apps that have age restrictions such as: Kik, Vine, Whisper.
- Set privacy settings for all other social media such as ask fm, and tumblr if you think they are really appropriate for your teen.
Seek advice from websites such as commonsensemedia.org