The Troubled Waters of Social Media

Updated: Nov 26, 2019

It's time to evaluate the way we think about social media use for ourselves and our children. Dr. Melissa Johnson, psychologist, and her colleagues at the Institute for Girls’ Development in Pasadena, CA, are leaders in this conversation. At a recent event for parents, we learned some critical tips about how to help our families navigate the notoriously rough seas of social media.

While the “Get Social Media Savvy” workshop currently centers on supporting girls, families and their larger circles of community, the tips and resources shared here are invaluable for all teens and parents, regardless of gender.

Social media is here to stay. Let’s examine some ways we can promote healthy habits, responsible use, and a common understanding for supporting our tweens and teens with a shifting reality none of us ever had to face at their age.

Social Media by the Numbers

To begin, let’s unpack some of the challenges our Institute colleagues highlight about the problematic relationship between teens and social media based on the most recent study by Pew Research:

1. Feeling left out has never been more common.

53% of teenagers who use social media learn they weren’t on the list for social events from social media posts.

2. There are higher levels of conflict online than manifest in face-to-face communications.

72% of teen girls report “people stirring up drama” on social media.

3. Others can post information about you that you may not like.

42% of teens have had information posted about them that they cannot control or have taken down from various sites.

4. Many posts and images are falsely curated and based on comparisons and ratings.

Highly edited images can project unmeetable images of perfection, as well as a falsely perfect life devoid of realistic highs and lows.

A worldwide rise in depression and anxiety in adolescent girls may have coincided with the arrival of the iPhone in 2007, possibly attributing to unreasonably high expectations about appearance and weight.

5. We live in a culture where digital users feel emboldened to make comments that one would never utter directly in person to another.

Without facial cues, tone of voice and body language, many interactions are less humanized.

Bullying is on the rise in a culture where intense critique has become more socially accepted.

Cultivating a Healthy Relationship with Social Media

Now that we understand what our teens are facing, let’s discuss some go-to methods for helping them find safe harbor in the rough seas of social media.

As a family, build time for face-to-face interactions without smartphones. Ideally, parents will model good behavior by examining screen time and smartphone use. Another option is to consider device-free mealtimes and to find other opportunities to unplug as a family.

Encourage your adolescents to self-reflect on how certain apps and social interactions make them feel. If your teen feels lousy after using a particular app, coach her to reconsider its value and place in her life.

Coach your teen to save important, complex communications for in-person conversations. Discuss times when it’s important to stop texting and actually speak in-person or on the phone.

Reward yourself with unplugged down time. Consider tracking social media usage each day for one week. Reserve blocks of time for both social media and breaks from digital devices. Consider having a family charging system where devices go to sleep at night.

The Right Dose of Screen Time

Co-author a family technology agreement with a supportive, ongoing dialogue. Here is a template to get you started from Common Sense Media.

Decide how much and what types of screen time are right and realistic for your kids and family. Consider the four principal types of screen time as categorized by Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens.

1. Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, listening to music

2. Interactive consumption: gaming, Internet browsing

3. Communication: social media use, texting, etc.

4. Content creation: using devices to create art, videos, music, etc.

Have conversations about possible disciplinary action at school based on social media use. Many schools have highly specific rules about the length of their reach when it comes to online behavior and social media use among their student body. In an increasing number of schools, especially among independent day and boarding schools, administrations operate on the understanding that students are representative citizens of their community both on campus and in cyberspace.

Technology and social media evolves too rapidly for most of us to digest. Whether or not we choose to unplug ourselves and our teenagers from social media, one reality remains clear: it’s more important than ever to remain connected to one another with and without it.

~Matthew Hayutin, M. Ed

Founder & Partner, Hayutin & Associates


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