Overcoming the Negative Influence of Social Media on Teenagers
Human interaction has experienced a paradigm shift over the last few decades. The latest outcome in the evolutionary chain of the communication processes is the advent of social media. Social media have revolutionized the manner in which humans interact and communicate and have become one of the most popular forms of modern communication. Teenagers today are actively using social media with a number of associated positive influences. These include improved socialization and communication, learning and access to information, and behavioral and self-esteem advantages. There are also negative influences such as cyberbullying, distorted perceptions and outlooks and Facebook depression. In order to overcome the negative influences, there are several measures that can be undertaken. First, parents should check their children’s social media use. Secondly, various controls should be enacted to limit teenager’s access to social media. Finally, teenagers should be advised and educated on the best way to use social media. This influences and strategies are now discussed.
The use of social media has a number of positive outcomes. For starters, it leads to improved socialization and communication. Social media essentially combines socialization and communication. Social media facilitates teenagers with an opportunity to stay connected with their families and friends (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, p. 801). Through social media, teenagers are able to connect and socialize with their friends who are also present on these platforms. In the event that their parents are also active on these forums, the teenagers are also able to keep in touch with them.
Socialization and communication also allows teenagers to make new friends. Social networking sites are usually open to virtually anyone who qualifies. Once they have created an account, individuals can connect with many other users, both those they know and those they don’t know. As a result, teenagers are able to make new friends (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, p. 801). Social media can provide means of interaction where other avenues of socialization fall short. For example, kids who feel isolated due to the inability to find teenagers with similar interest where they reside can always connect with such kids online (Wallace).
Social media further facilitates communication by improving teenagers’ communication skills. Through social media, teenagers are able to exchange ideas with their many connections. These can be both current friends as well as the many new friends that teenagers are able to make through social networking. Social networking sites usually have powerful functions. These functions are such as creation of blogs, podcasts and gaming sites. Through their interaction with these functions, teenagers experience a growth in ideas. Indeed, the teenagers we interviewed indicated that online video platforms allowed them to access and share video tutorials on how to carry out certain tasks.
The second positive influence of social media use is the facilitation of learning and access to information. Social media avails teenagers with learning opportunities that were not present a decade or two ago. Through social media, teenagers can connect with one another and work on their homework and projects (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, p. 801). Moreover, they are able to do this while overcoming the traditional barriers of time and space. This is because with social media, teenagers don’t have to be physically present at their friend’s house. Rather, they can connect on chat sites and chat about their homework. Group chats facilitate simultaneous communication between several members at a time. For complicated assignments and projects, social media teenagers can connect over video chat sites. The interview respondents indicated that this was indeed an important feature of social media, especially for projects demanding a lot of attention. Video networking allowed members to coordinate themselves and work on their projects.
Social media also facilitates teenagers with access to information. Many organizations and institutions today have an online presence. This can be through groups or pages, for example, on Facebook. Teenagers are thereby able to access information by visiting such pages and groups. According to O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson teenagers thus have easy and confidential access to say health information (p. 801). This is important for teenagers as they grow up since they are able to acquire information that helps them maintain healthy lifestyle. They are able to gain information on health matters related to their body. They can research on contentious topics where other platforms may not live up. This may be the case for issues such as drugs and substance use as well as sex education.
A third advantage of social media is that besides the access to different types of information, it can also have certain behavioral and self-esteem advantages. According to Wallace, social media can help teenagers build their confidence. She cites research findings from child advocacy group Common Sense Media, which reported that 20% of teenagers reported gaining confidence from social media use as opposed to 4% who reported reduced confidence. Confidence is important especially for teenagers since during this stage of their lives, they are usually very conscious about their self-image. Improved confidence means that teenagers are better able to express themselves. According to Lenhart et al., online spaces promote boldness since teenagers do not have to worry about physical violence (p. 30). Social media empowers teenagers since they feel more secure within the online space. These views were also affirmed in the interview. Participants indicated that on social media, they are more open since they felt that they were inaccessible.
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The confidence boost also results in compounded positive influences. 28% of teenagers responding in the Common Sense Media research indicated feeling more outgoing with only 5% indicating the opposite (Wallace). On average, the benefits of social media as per the research were improved confidence, better relationships and a feeling of being more outgoing. This is probably due to the fact that social media allows individuals to express themselves fearlessly and boldly. Social media can also be used as a driver of social good. It allows teenagers to take action in bringing about change and action they desire. This further boosts their self-confidence and molds their character such that they become more responsible members of their society. Through their contribution, they develop a sense of being relevant in society.
There are a number of negative outcomes that are associated with social media. Negative outcomes may be related to the content posted on social networking sites. One of the most commonly encountered influences of social media is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying occurs where an individual maliciously posts false, hostile or embarrassing information about another person (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson p. 801). Some of the forms in which cyberbullying manifests include name calling, abusive comments and rumor spreading (Völlink et al., p. 9). The channels through which these forms are spread include instant messengers, chat rooms and emails.
Cyberbullying affects not only the victim, but also its perpetrators. It leads to compound outcomes such as depression, anxiety and in ultimate cases, suicide. Some of the effects recorded in both the victim and the culprit include depression, anxiety, worry, loneliness, insecurity, feeling hurt, hopeless, angry, frustrated and socially inept (Völlink et al., p. 21). In the most severe cases, cyberbullying leads the victim to commit suicide.
Some forms of cyberbullying have been indicated by the victims to have greater effect than physical bullying. The specific forms associated with greater harm include pictures and video clip bullying (Smith et al., p. 378). This is probably because the victim is more readily identifiable by third parties. This is because of factors such as not having friends around for support, the presence of a greater audience online and a greater durability of the act (Smith et al., 2008, p. 379). Other factors that intensify the adverse effects of cyberbullying include the anonymity of the culprit. Moreover, cyberbullying lacks physical and social cues and this therefore leads to a lack of personal confrontation with the reactions of their victims and the consequence of harassment. The consequence of this absence is that it “fosters antinormative, uninhibited, aggressive, and impulsive behavior” (DeHue, Bolman, & Völlink, 2008, p. 217). Clearly, cyberbullying is a serious negative influence that requires to be dealt with.
Apart from cyberbullying, another negative influence of social media is distorted perceptions and outlooks of the world by teenagers. According to Raising Children Network, when teenagers interact with particular images that are set as standards of particular desirable traits, they may modify their behaviors with the intention of achieving these traits. Modification of behaviors occurs in relation to the attainment of various traits or characteristics. One of the most easily detectable forms of behavior modification is the rapid manner in which people change their wardrobes. Whenever there is a new fashion fad, teenagers will tend to gravitate towards the same. They will therefore request their parents to buy them the same so that they can keep up with the latest fads.
More severe cases occur at a more intimate and physical level. This is the case with the predominant image of beauty and sexuality whereby teenage girls aspire to achieve thin bodies with hour glass figures. When they interact through social media and come across articles, blogs or other content that promotes thin, hour-glass figures as the in-thing, teenagers may perceive this as the definition of beauty. They will therefore aspire to achieve such bodies. In this bid, they will diet or even seek to undergo plastic surgery. The Raising Children Network indicates that some teenage girls want breast implants and laser hair removal while their male counterparts want muscle enhancers.
Apart from beauty and self-image, distorted messages may also pertain to behavior. Social media is likely to influence teenagers to behave more aggressively or violently (Raising Children Network). This is because with social media content such as videos or gaming sites, the actual outcome of violent demeanor is rarely shown. Thus, teenagers don’t get a realistic understanding of the outcome of violent conduct.
When it comes to negative behavioral and psychological impacts, Facebook has often been the target of research, probably due to its prominence and the prevalence of its use. The term “Facebook depression” has been defined to refer to events where individuals develop depression as a consequence of overindulgence in social sites such as Facebook (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, p. 802). Social media use is quite intensive. In the adolescent stage of life, contact with and acceptance by peers is important. As a result, where adolescents fail to find the same during their online interaction, it leads to depression.
The use of Facebook has been linked to relationship problems by exacerbating feelings of jealousy (Konnikova). She also points out that feelings of envy increase with Facebook use as users learn about achievements of their peers. Facebook has further been associated with feelings of anxiety and stress. 30% of respondents in a study indicated feeling guilty about rejecting friend requests while a majority of respondents indicated pressure to come up with an inventive status update (Williams). Moreover, teenagers have also indicated their discomfort over online etiquette rules. The overall effect is that teenagers experience emotional pressure. Such pressure arises from the need to conform to the requirements of online socialization. Clearly, Facebook use results in a number of negative emotional outcomes.
Facebook depression has detrimental compounded effects akin to those of offline depression such as engagement in substance abuse and risky sexual behavior. This is further exacerbated by the presence of risky internet sites and blogs which may promote such risky behaviors (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson p. 802). The easy access to information that is characteristic of the internet then becomes a serious problem since teenagers can learn how to use particular substances. Moreover, they may also learn about risky and aggressive/self-destructive behaviors.
Overcoming Negative Influences
Due to the dangerous nature of the negative influences of social media use, it is important to come up with appropriate actions to overcome them. One of the most relevant methods to overcome negative effects is for parents to check their children’s social media use. Parental involvement is very important if negative influences are to be mitigated. According to O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, parents should increase their awareness on current technologies (p. 804). Staying up to speed with the latest advances in technology would allow parents to understand how best they can intervene in their children’s use of social networking sites. Families should also be more proactive about their teenagers’ use of social media by checking privacy settings and online profiles.
Parents can use technical tools in order to achieve the end of monitoring their children’s use of online media. By regularly checking for such profiles, parents are able to understand what their teenagers are up to and in case of any wayward behavior, they can intervene earlier. In fact, according to a research by Lenhart et al., many parents indicated checking the sites visited by their children as well as the information available online (p. 69). Moreover, there are those who have gone further (about 41%) to befriend their teenage child on the social network site. Pediatricians favor such active involvement over other methods of control such as the use of software programs (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson p. 802). Such involvement allows parents to understand what their children are up to and how they are using the internet and social network sites. It also enables them to keep in touch with their children and moreover, they are readily accessible to their children in case a need for communication arises.
The second way of controlling the negative influences involves the use of appropriate controls. Such controls can be applied at various levels. For example, such controls may be applied at the home level, the school level or at the state level. At the home level, parents should frequently monitor their children’s use of online sites. Many parents employ the use of software or hardware tools that allow them to control access to sites (Lenhart, Madden and Smith p. 73). Such control may be in the form of monitoring use or blocking access to certain content. Parental controls can be applied either on computers or on mobile phones. The use of parental controls or other filters is more prevalently applied to computers than to mobile phones. In this way, parents are able to shield their children from the negative media and content. Consequently, this helps to keep negative influences of social media at bay.
Besides parental control, teenagers’ involvement in social network sites can also be regulated by the state through laws. This method has in fact been used whereby general audience websites are required to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This act ensures that individuals participating on online sites are at least thirteen years old (Lenhart, Madden and Smith p. 55). Thus, such sites require users to provide personal information to verify this age requirement. For other sites containing adult-oriented and explicit content, the requirement is that users be at least 18 years of age.
The third strategy is for parents to advise their children on how best to use social media. Such education is vital in lieu of the fact that with the pervasive nature of current and emerging technologies, it is increasingly difficult to avoid the use of the same altogether. O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, argue that it is important for parents to talk to their children and advice them on online use (p. 803). The view for parents to get actively involved is also supported by Wallace, who indicates that parents should be more proactive and talk to their children about social media, in a similar fashion as they would talk about sex.
The need for education on the use of social media was also supported in the interviews. Many of the teenagers felt that they required more information on the appropriate use of social media. They argued that if they were educated on how to use social media, then they would benefit more and reduce negative outcomes. They drew comparisons with education provided on such issues as life skills, health education and sex education. As for the parents, there were varied responses. Some parents felt that time spent on social media and social networks should be reduced. They also felt that social networking sites should be more selective and restrictive. Further, they argued that governmental agencies should also intervene. Finally, parents also agreed that some level of education was necessary to train teenage users on the best way to benefit from social media.
Offering advice is also useful in dealing with negative cognitive and psychological effects. Many teenagers indicating that advice they received on how to deal with the online cruelty they experienced was helpful (Lenhart, Madden and Smith p. 53). Thus parents should engage their children in order to help them overcome negative influences.
Social media use is one of the most prevalent features of today’s communication systems. Today, many teenagers are actively engaging in social media use and social networking. This engagement has many associated consequences, both positive and negative. Some of the negative outcomes include cyberbullying and access to inappropriate content as well as emotional problems such as anxiety and depression. The research reveals that the negative outcomes can be overcome by creating awareness about appropriate social media use.Parents should take a more proactive interest in their children’s use of social media.