Is My Teen Ready for Social Media? Teens credit social media for helping to build stronger friendships and exposing them to a more diverse world, but they express concern that these sites lead to drama and social pressure
“A recent Gallup poll revealed that on average, adults checks their smartphone hourly, if not every few minutes. That number is even higher among teens. Our attachment to smart phones is so strong that 63 percent of people actually sleep with their phone right next to them.” (1)
How addictive have our devices become? Recently, studies have shown that you
don’t even have to CLICK or SCROLL in order to experience that dopamine release, just the anticipation can cause that desire as well. In the mentioned blogpost we also give warning signs for how to spot if your teen may be struggling with their phone/social media. Check it out for more information.
So, here’s the question…when do we allow our kids access to these platforms?
Let me repeat: this is a family decision. It is my opinion that each family must make this decision prayerfully and with as much information as we can gather.
In our blog Old Enough to have a social life, but still too young for a permit, we explored the growth and development of tweens into teens. We said that “what we do during these years will shape them way more than you think and can lead them to becoming a healthier adult.”
There is no doubt that friendships are a key component of life in our students. When they have healthy friendships, they not only feel accepted for who they are, but they are more likely to feel empowered and connected to the world around them. Having that close access to friends that are able to also speak truth and able to help encourage their dreams.
Research has also shown that having at least one solid friendship can go a long way in helping to prevent bullying. In fact, bullies often target teens that are alone or isolated. But teens that have a core group of friends often have a built-in layer of protection from bullying.
Social media can also expose our students to important issues all over the world, not just those in our own back yards. Social media can then be a way for them to make an impact on issues that would normally be much more difficult. If we are proactive, we can show them the positive uses for social media for things other than selfies and the occasional “flex.”
Having a student that struggles socially, social media has provided a safe way for kids to connect in ways that would normally be more difficult. Busy schedules, a mountain of homework, and late night hours often prohibit students from being able to spend a whole evening together, but with the rise in popularity of platforms, such as discord. What is Discord? Check it out here.
Overall media use among youth has significantly increased by at least 20% since 2011, but the art of multi-tasking -- that is, simultaneously accessing two or more forms of media -- has increased by more than 119%. One study (2) has shown that those who have the highest level of media multi-tasking showed a 70% increase in self-reported depressive symptoms compared to the lowest level of multi-taskers.
Teens magnify the impact of the stress by engaging on these sites while also streaming Netflix, doing their homework and checking their email at the same time. While being a good multi-tasker used to be a badge of honor to be highlighted on our resume, we now know that multi-tasking can trigger significant stress in our brains. (3)
How can we help our students become social media users without losing our minds? This was something that Kristin and I thought about a lot long before our kids even asked and many conversations with them before it was even a desire. When we did allow them to use the platforms, it was only over wi-fi. (They became very adept at identifying free wifi, even at extended red lights. It was like this generation’s version of geo-caching.)
So do we recognize the fact that this generation no longer hangs out at the Dairy Isle, but their version of connection happens digitally, or do we fight the trends and make more intentional actions at connecting them for in person gatherings? We decided for the Elliott Family (remember it’s a family by family decision) that a hybrid approach would be most helpful.
This doesn’t remove all hesitancy for us. When CNN reports that some 13-year-olds check social media 100 times a day. Or Common Sense Media research finds that nearly 60 percent of teenagers say social media often distracts them from doing homework. IN her book: Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turtle explains that our devices and digital media have a way of impeding the face-to-face conversations necessary for building basic life skills like empathy, self-restraint, and emotional intimacy.
Like so many other areas of our life with teens, lean IN to the tension and take the opportunity to guide and mentor them. Whatever you do, don’t just throw them into the deep end without guidance. These are the students that we end up counseling through the most anxiety and depression. Fuller Institute gives some wonderful guidelines to get started:
1. Start on one platform.
Don’t overdo it. They will want to just in with both feet in Snapchat, Instagram, Houseparty, and Discord to get the full experience and to explore all the options. This is a battle WORTH fighting for. Start simple. One account, one platform, and be sure that you have all the information for the account. Trust is earned through showing that they can be trusted. But tossing them in with no accountability is a recipe for disaster. Fuller institute recommends avoiding platforms in which you are able to anonymously post as there is no accountability and they can facilitate predatory or bullying behavior.
2. Go over the rules for online safety and then do it again.
Kristin and I have both sat down with students on the verge of meeting with someone they had only chatted with online with no way to verify that that person WAS in fact another 14 year old. Reread that last sentence and weigh out the levity of what could have happened had the Lord not moved on the heart of a mama or the student carelessly made a statement that got them caught. All of those situations have happened within the past 5 years.
Talk through the importance of only accepting “follow” invitations from people you know. We talked about creepy men who pose as kids or as harmless fan accounts for popular artists. We talked with our kids about social media being an extension of relationships you have in real life.
After scrolling through their account a few weeks later, we had the conversation again about friend requesting people with whom they didn’t have a personal relationship already established. Online friends are not the same as our in person friends. This is especially true of teens during their formative years.
Check out this guide for facing online dangers: https://d36s6f2n3iyjqc.cloudfront.net/fyi-files/Online_Danger.pdf
3. Monitor their usage.
Recent research suggests that teenagers who know their parents are monitoring their social media interactions tend to be less distressed by online conflict. Having your support—and at times your help—as a safety net can be somewhat of a relief to young teens, even if they may roll their eyes at you about it in person. However, try to restrain yourself from lurking every day at every move they make, and refrain from mentioning in person everything you see online. Remember as well, now that they have an online presence they will be more aware of what YOU are posting about them and may even be more sensitive to it.
One helpful feature on Instagram is the "eyeglass" or discover tab. (See the GIF) You can allow Instagrams algorithm to let you know what type of content your student (or even you) deem as important. They gather information on posts that have been liked and suggested New content based on that info. (Lot's of dog videos and Bible posts on mine.)
4. “Likes” aren’t everything. Make sure you are modeling it first and foremost.
Remember when Instagram talked about doing away with showing how many “likes” are on a post? That hasn’t happened because they know that’s part of what drives usage. Getting something liked can feel good but there is also a downside as well.
One study showed that teens get anxious about what’s happening on their social networks when they’re not looking: 61% want to see if their posts are getting likes and comments, 36% want to see if their friends are doing things without them, and 21% want to make sure no one is saying mean things about them. This wasn’t 15-18 year olds. This was a study of 13 year olds.
In other words, the biggest motivation for posting and checking back in is to see how others are responding to what they have to say and show. We know, because we are prone to the same. These interactions are primarily with peers they know in real life, so a digital reaction is an extension of what they feel like matters in the classroom or on the field with classmates. Follow up that talk by modeling it yourself because many adults compulsively check their socials for similar reasons.
5. Interact on their terms. Prepare for the terms to change at any time.
As Fuller Institute states: At thirteen or younger, friending and following your kids is important. But keep the interaction with them about what they’re doing online offline unless you’re invited in. Among parents we’ve interviewed, the majority say they don’t like, tag, or post on their kids’ platforms, but if their kids tag, post, or interact with them online they reciprocate. It’s a bit of a dance, and the song can change midway across the floor.
One week, they might be upset that you didn’t like their post, while the next they may be upset for leaving a comment. Again, be prepared for anything and if you are keeping the conversation open, they will often vocalize their feelings. Best rule of thumb, don’t take it personal, they often don’t even know why THEY feel the way they do.
Sometimes, them following trusted adults that are friends of the family or in our faith community can be a bonus. There are times when they are able to have a frank conversation about our teen’s post and it may even be received much differently than if we were to have that same conversation.
Enough cannot be said about the power of prayer in these situations. It is so Important to seek Wisdom that God longs to give us in these situations through giving His Peace and giving us the Wisdom to apply His Word as we talk to our teens. Also, be honest about your own experience in these platforms. Don't be afraid to be open and vulnerable and what you've learned.
The History of Social Media:
Studies on Teens and Social Media: