One of the major concerns that most parents today have is the prominence of social media and instant messaging in their teenager’s daily routine. Whether you shun social media or actively take part in it, like most parents you struggle to keep pace. Just as you’ve caught on to the “lol”s and “omg”s and finally understood what a tweet means, you now have the hashtags and instagrams. You notice that your child’s phone is generally buzzing with messages and notifications from either Facebook or Whatsapp. For the life of you, you can’t figure out why they need to stay in touch with their friends 24/7 or post pictures of everything from the building cat to what they ate for lunch.
Parents are genuinely worried that their promising teenager will neglect studies, household activities and while his time away. As psychologists, we understand your concerns. The increasing reports of cyberbullying, internet stalking and facebook depression have us worried as well. Setting rules with your children for internet use with regards to safety, privacy and time spent are important. However, despite the much talked about adverse effects of social media, there is also some good news.
Recently, there has been an increase in the discussion and research about the positive role that social media can play.
So, let’s take a look at the other side of this coin.
Why is Social Media important to your teenager?
One of the first things you will notice when your child starts nearing adolescence is the increasing amount of time they want to spend with their friends. This is because one of the key developmental milestones in adolescence is “individuation”. That is when your child starts forming their self-concepts, independent of the family. Peer groups serve as important non-familial contexts. Hence, adolescents become more likely to listen to their friends’ opinions and give priority to maintaining peer relations by spending more time with their friends or engaging in similar activities like them. Through their friendships, teenagers become more autonomous and self-assured, and widen their perspectives.
As it turns out, online communication is the preferred mode of teenage talk. Findings of the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) GenY survey(2012-13) show that almost 74 % of the “post-millennial” generation prefer social media over phone calls, with networks like Facebook being the primary mode of communication with peers for 92 per cent of those surveyed.
Today, adolescents’ social relationship with their peers to a large extent takes place online. No wonder it is then important to an adolescent; social media is the new playground.
What are the possible positive outcomes?
Social media is transforming adolescent development, education, and the parent-child relationship. Research indicates that it can also teach empathy, racial tolerance, and interpersonal skills. It also helps adolescents develop skills that are essential in this digital age.
Social Skills & Communication:
Social media sites such as Facebook mainly allow teens to accomplish online many of the tasks that are important to them offline: like staying connected with friends and family and exchanging ideas.
However, it offers deeper benefits. Through interacting with their peers, adolescents develop constructive interpersonal skills and higher self esteem. Positive peer relationships online also appear to discourage aggression,emotional distress,and antisocial behaviors. It helps build respect and tolerance towards those from diverse backgrounds. In doing so, it helps them to foster their own identity as well as have a holistic view of their society and world at large.
A major advantage is that for teenagers who are generally shy and introverted. Those who are shy can use social media to overcome what seems most challenging to them by initiating new friendships, in a low-risk environment. They can avoid the initial awkwardness and it helps them interact with more confidence.
Dr. Rosen (Professor of Psychology, California State University) in his recent research in 2011 stated that “Youth who are able to express more virtual empathy are able to express more real-world empathy as well. “
Social networks might actually make children more relationship-oriented, thoughtful and emphatic. They remember birthdays and special occasions and emotional support is just a message away. Networking sites help them create long-term friendships, by being regularly in touch online. They are updated on their friends’ lives and hence, learn how to respond accordingly.
Improving Family Relationships:
Most parents feel that the generation gap has widened due to technology. However, if used correctly technology can actually improve family relationships and encourage feelings of connectedness. It helps you pursue shared areas of interest with your child. Like they say, if you can’t beat them, join them.
Creating Supportive Networks:
It may even help children to better cope with stress in their lives. Putting up status updates or pictures sharing what they feel allows for an outlet through which they can express their stress, thus allowing for a cathartic effect. Facebook postings and instant messaging enables teenagers to receive immediate support from a wider range of people. Adolescents with chronic illnesses or adjustment issues can access online forums and groups through which they can develop warm, supportive networks of people with similar difficulties.
Opportunities for Learning and Growth:
Teenagers are learning practical skills that are required in today’s wired world.
It provides a space to network and connect with each other whether it is about homework or group projects. Materials and ideas can be exchanged and the process of collaboration is smoothened. Some schools successfully use blogs as teaching tools, which has the benefit of reinforcing skills in written expression and creativity.
Even though your child might not pick up the newspaper, he or she is likely to be aware of the recent political and social news due to regular trending updates on social media. Moreover, twitter and facebook provide opportunities for social and community work such as volunteering and raising money for a charity.
Outlet for Interests and Creative Expression:
It could be anything from painting and photography to writing to playing an instrument. There is a growth of individual and collective creativity through development and sharing of ideas, blogs, podcasts, etc. It gives the adolescent an opportunity to reach out to and learn from like-minded individuals. They learn to develop and appreciate new and different perspectives.
Access to Information about Health:
Excellent health resources are increasingly available to adolescents on a variety of areas of interest, such as information on safe sex practices, coping with exam stress and anxiety. Moreover, since it allows for easy and anonymous access, recent research indicates that it has produced multiple improvements in adolescent health care, such as increased medication adherence, better disease understanding, and fewer missed appointments. It has also led to more involvement in their emotional health as well; they are more aware and proactive.
Is this too good to be true? What next?
As parents, you might still be hesitant even though all this information does sound great and reassuring. With regards to social media, this age-old adage fits perfectly “Anything in excess can be harmful”.
Hence, it is important for you to exercise rules and regulations about social networking. You can make sure to read up and educate your child on internet safety and privacy. Regular breaks while using social media are important to avoid distraction and addiction. Either you can set out a specific time or give around a 15-20 minutes break after 60 mins on the internet.
After the Oxford Dictionary included “selfie” as its word of the year, social media does not seem to be fading away anytime soon. So, as parents, take it with a pinch of salt and help your teenager navigate the virtual world more positively. It helps to remember that one form of socializing doesn’t replace the other. It generally tends to augment it. Your children will still want to spend time with friends or family in person as well. Also, as adolescents grow older and gain more autonomy, they generally tend to ease up on social networking.
To sum it up, social media is just like that piece of delicious chocolate cake; it tastes great but too much of it can lead to a stomach ache. Maybe it is time to advocate a “healthy media diet”, yes?
Feel free to share your opinions and perspective on how social media plays a role in your adolescent’s life. You can send in any feedback or questions you might have.
Image Credit: mkhmarketing
Post contributed by: Anusha Manjani
Anusha is a Clinical Psychologist and she worked with children and adolescents and young adults at Inner Space, from 2013 to 2015.