Wired: Social Media and Adolescents
“It’s time to go! Grab your stuff” calls mom from the kitchen. A muffled “Okay, just a minute” comes from the other room. With a sigh, mom peers into the living room and is greeted with the familiar sight of her daughter transfixed by her phone. She does not even look up when she reiterates, “Come on; we’re going to be late.” This all-too-familiar scene leaves many parents frustrated and unsure how to help their kids engage the social media world appropriately. The introduction of the iPhone heralded a massive shift in the social world that children and adolescents are now growing up in. This exciting development in technology was welcomed by our culture with wide open arms. Many did not even question how this could negatively affect communication styles and relational connection. With the iPhone came unlimited access to social media, but simultaneously erased previous natural communication boundaries regarding one’s time and availability.
Adolescents today have never known a life without social media and screen time. Some of the more prominent platforms–including Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter among many others–are ubiquitous in modern culture. While social media has become a vital tool in the lives of both teens and adults, views on how it should be used vary among each group. Facebook is the social media platform most used by adults to keep up with current events and family/friends. Adolescents are generally more interested in Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.
It’s clear that social media plays important role in people’s lives, regardless of age. But is there such a thing as too much social media?
Teens Beliefs About Social Media
Social media–a type of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content–can be very powerful and a positive tool for adolescents. According to a Washington Post survey, many teens believe that social media, in spite of its flaws, is mostly positive and can be used in many positive ways. The survey found that teens believed social media was a positive tool in terms of:
- allowing them to have a voice and to do good in the world
- strengthening friendships and relationships
- fostering a sense of belonging
- providing genuine support
- valuing self-expression
How Much is too Much?
Yet many parents are concerned about the amount of time their children spend on their phones and other platforms–not to mention the potential dangers that lurk down these avenues of communication. Some parents, worried their children are addicted to their screens, are anxious about how much time they should allow them to spend on social media.
Even teens themselves are starting to understand they may overindulge. According to a study by Pew Research Center, 60% of teens aged 13-17 believe they spend too much time online. More than half of those teens say they personally spend too much time on their cell phones.
In another study, Common Sense Media found that teens spend an average of nine hours a day online. That sure is a great deal of time spent staring at a screen! Although advanced technology now allows parents more control over the amount of screentime their children get, adolescents are smart–and they find ways to get around those barriers.
In spite of its utility, social media is affecting teens lives’ in unhealthy ways. Some of the major concerns that teens face include:
- body image/body satisfaction
- peer pressure and peer victimization
- inability to focus on schoolwork or other tasks
Social media demands can push an adolescent to feel or act a certain way that may be untrue to themselves. At its worst, it can be used to abuse and bully others, personally or anonymously, from behind the safety of a screen. Social media can distract adolescents from more important priorities in place such as school, sports or clubs, and friendships.
So, Where Does That Leave Us?
While social media can be a useful and healthy tool for teens, it is important to help them learn and understand the dangers and problems it can cause. If you fear your child is using social media too often or in negative ways, and are struggling with helping them to make healthier choices, consider reaching out to a therapist that specializes in working with adolescents. Therapists that work with this age group can be great allies in helping your teen to weigh the various advantages and risks of technology. Together, we can form a more positive relationship with, and self-control over, social media.
Maria has a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Adler University. Maria is enthusiastic about working with different populations, including children, adolescents, and families. Maria has experience utilizing non-directive play therapy and her approach is client-centered based, while integrating client strengths within the process.