There are a number of influences children learn from when developing their social views. Parents attempt to instill moral values in their children to teach them right from wrong, respect, and to be polite. As they get older, teenagers take these social cues from other people outside of the family, like their teachers and peers.
Over the past decade, or so, another social cue teens use on a frequent basis is social media. Thanks to the Internet, mobile devices, and social media sites, like Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and so on, teens have a direct line to the outside world and their friends all of the time. As a result, teens are constantly flooded with access to entertainment, news, videos, and a direct link to what their friends and others their age are doing, which further affects what they see as important and accepted.
Social media can quickly become a problem for teenagers and parents, alike. Some teens may feel or perceive they do not fit in with what others are saying is “normal” or “cool”. If they do not fit this mold others have created, they can feel neglected, ignored, and left out. Not feeling like they are part of the group can lead to lowered self-esteem and self-worth, depression, and other mood and psychological/sociological problems.
In order to help teenagers, who are experiencing problems with self-esteem, increased anxiety and stress, and other such issues, it is important for parents to understand how social media can be such a major influence in their teens’ daily lives.
The Rise of Social Media
Advances in technology and the Internet paved the way for the rise of social media websites. It is very rare for a teen to not have at least one social media account they use on a daily basis. Many teens actually have multiple social media accounts on numerous sites that they monitor and check regularly throughout the day. As such, teens today are much more connected with each other than in the past.
Not only does your teen have friends from school and their neighbourhood, but also “online” friends, both form social media and gaming sites, who they have never met in real life. These “online” friends can be from anywhere around the world. This creates a very vast and demanding social life with many different types of friendships and relationships. These strange interactions often motivate teens to develop competitive attention-seeking behaviors that can render personal boundaries and online safety null.
It is not uncommon for teens to develop an almost addictive-like behaviour towards social media. It can become the cornerstone of their daily routines: going online as soon as they wake up, and right before going to sleep, compulsively posting and commenting no matter the time of day or the activity they ought to be doing.
The Negative Effects of Social Media
The use of social media by teenagers does not always have negative side effects. However, it could contribute to lower self-esteem, anxiety, stress, depression, and other such issues in teens if this becomes their only source of validation from their peers. Some of the more common influences social media can have on teens, includes, but may not be limited to:
Body Image/Eating Disorder Problems – Teenagers are bombarded with endless pictures of what their peers believe to be “normal” body image. If your teen believes they are different because their body is not “normal,” it can cause them to feel inferior and result in a change in their eating habits.
Anxiety – Teens want to feel like they belong. Posts of their friends at concerts, taking vacations, and attending parties can raise the pressure to keep up with their peers’ image or status. In addition, if they are left out, they quickly find out through social media.
Stress – Cyberbullying has become problematic in recent years. From making snide comments on your teen’s post to posting crass images of your teen without their consent, direct harassment can become an powerful stressor for teens and can ignite serious social conflict.
Depression – If teens are not getting responses to friend requests and their posts, it can make them feel like they are somehow unworthy and therefor are being ignored. This can lead to feelings of depression since they may not feel like they are part of a group.
Sleep Disorders – With teens being constantly connected to social media, it can make it difficult for them to get the proper amount of sleep. When their phone dings with an update, even if it is in the middle of the night, it is not uncommon for your teen to post or see what was posted.
Alcohol/Drug-like Dependency – Some teens become so dependent upon social media they could exhibit alcohol/drug-like additive behaviours. If their access to social media is cut off, they might experience withdrawal symptoms.
What Can Parents Do?
- Open a conversation about social media, include it in your routine chats.
- Ask what your teen likes and dislikes about the different applications available, why they prefer one and not the others.
- Learn how they use it and discuss how it may be influencing their behaviour.
- Get to know the different applications in order to get a first hand experience, and also to identify possible risks for your child.
- Having identified the risks, educate them about how to stay safe online and when they meet their online friends in person, and also about what is legal or illegal online, including what can be seen as cyberbullying.
However, if you notice your teen’s mood has changed, an increase in anxiety or stress, a change in sleeping or eating habits, lower self-esteem or a great increase in social conflict you need to contact a professional counselling center for advice.
Restricting access to social media is not the right answer, but by helping your teen get the support they require in a caring environment, it can help them learn how to overcome their issues related to social media and realize social media does not have to be the cornerstone of their life. For more information about therapeutic and counselling services for your teen, contact Bayridge Counselling Centre now at 905-319-1488.