A comprehensive survey about teens and social media was just released from Common Sense Media. There were a lot of interesting findings. Check out the infographic or the full report if you’re interested.
It turns out that most teens believe that social media has a positive effect on them overall. It’s actually not even close.
This is consistent with a Pew Research Study that came out last Spring showing that 76% of teens claimed that social media had a neutral or positive effect on their lives, 24% felt that it was “mostly negative”.
A unique aspect of the Common Sense survey was that they grouped teens into two categories, those with “low social-emotional well being” (LSEWB) and “high social emotional well being” (HSEWB). Compared to the HSEWB group, teens with LSEWB were way more likely to say that they:
- Sometimes feel left out or excluded (70% vs. 29%)
- Feel bad about themselves if no one comments on or likes their posts (43% vs. 11%).
- Have deleted social media posts because they got too few “likes”. (43% vs. 13%)
- Have ever been cyberbullied (35% vs. 5%).
What comes next may surprise you…
The LSEWB group also reported that social media makes them feel significantly less lonely and depressed and a little bit better about themselves! What??? That was my first reaction anyways.
As I thought about it more, it started to make sense. Here’s what I think this means for you as a parent.
1. Struggling teens are more sensitive to the negative aspects of social media but also benefit more from the positive aspects of it. Our job is to actively help them learn to get better at leveraging the positives and reducing the harmful aspects. Age matters as well. There’s clear data that extensive social media use at 8th grade is far more detrimental to happiness and well being then it is in 12th grade.
2. Our focus needs to be on our kids not their phones. Clearly, the emotional well being of our kids is a huge factor in the role their devices have in their life. Learning how to responsibly utilize technology so that it serves us and not the other way around will be an everlasting challenge. But this stuff isn’t going away, so our main job is to inoculate kids from the harmful aspects of their devices.
We do this by ensuring they’re taught empathy (giving them ours and building up theirs), self reflection, resilience, self-control and problem solving. These are essential skills to be learned. Practice, repetition and reflection are the only ways to do it. Taking away phones as a consequence rarely helps build up these muscles and typically exacerbates the problems.
3. Most of us need to spend more time learning about their online experience. If you have a teen that’s struggling, do you know the ways that social media helps them feel less alone and depressed? These are the types of questions that we often forget to ask but that we need to understand. If you start by understanding the helpful aspects of social media, your teen is much more likely to share and reflect on the ways it impacts them negatively.
4. We need to shift from adversaries to collaborators. There’s potential for a great partnership here. Your teen is cooler than you are (hard for me to admit) and likely quicker and more current and sophisticated when it comes to technology. You have better judgement and the wisdom of living through an age where people sat across from each other and talked with eye contact. They need more of what you’ve got and you need more of what they’ve got. So start or continue having conversations where you work together to solve these problems. Play games together, make videos, connect via social media. These are opportunities to learn and grow together, reduce conflict and vastly reduce the risk that your teen will be subversive and destructive online.
When it comes to our teens and preteens, it can feel like technology is an asteroid hurling towards earth, leaving us powerless to the inevitable destruction of our kids’ minds and hearts. However staying stuck in this mindset will leave us feeling anxious, powerless and most importantly we’ll miss out on the opportunities that lie in front of us.
We should all be appropriately concerned about the impact social media, gaming and other technology is having on our kids. After all, at this moment, thousands of motivated technologists (with help from well paid psychologists) are working very hard to figure out ways to manipulate and hook the vulnerable brains of these kids. So we can’t be passive about this issue. But there’s also more and more data coming out all the time, creating a more complete picture. Social media and gaming have the potential to exacerbate problems that already existed. They also have the potential to heal, support and connect vulnerable people who desperately need it.
I know this can be really hard and not something many of us want to deal with, but we have a responsibility as parents to educate ourselves on this stuff and continue to do our best at helping our wonderful kids learn how to have an online existence that is literate, ethical, positive and manageable. If you’re still reading this, you’re doing exactly that. On behalf of your teen (who may not thank you for a long time), thank you!
If you’re interested in learning more about how to help your teen grow into their best self both online and off, I really hope you’ll consider joining us for one or both of my upcoming workshops. You can expect lots of relevant tools, information and strategies that will empower you to have better conversations and more effective responses to your teen or preteen’s use of media. You’re welcome to bring your teen if you’d like. I think they’ll also find it worthwhile and fair.
I know you’re super busy and spread thin but I really think you’ll be glad you came. I value your time and my goal is always to exceed your expectations at my workshops. I would be happy to give you a refund if you decided it wasn’t worth your while. Click here to register.