The use of social media web sites is among the most common activities of today’s children and adolescents. Recent studies have found that a high percentage of teenagers log onto their favourite social media sites more than ten times a day in their free time. Therefore, a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet. It is undeniable that various forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms and blogs have changed not only our children’s perception of the world, but also how they interact with others.
The evolution of social media has positively contributed to greater socialisation, learning and exchanging of ideas within peer groups. It has also motivated and marketed our youth to become a part of a larger community. These web sites are a means for young people to accomplish online many of the tasks that are important to them when they are offline. Ideas can be formed and developed through the creation of blogs, pod casts, videos and gaming sites which tend to foster their individuality and unique social skills.
However, the use of social media can at the same time very easily become a risk to adolescents, more often than adults realise. In recent years the term “Facebook depression” has caused deep concern among health care professionals. It is defined as the depression and anxiety that results from individuals spending a great deal of time looking, and at times obsessing over idealised versions of their friends’ online lives. As a result, these idealised versions are seen as reality and are considered superior in quality to the individuals’ own lives. The consequences are feelings of depression and anxiety which can, and have led to suicide in some instances.
Cyberbullying is an increasing pitfall of today’s social media use. Seemingly innocuous photos and comments can easily fall prey to the many cyberbullies out there. While it is bad enough that there are adolescents who are victims of these negative comments by peers, many are victimised by strangers as well.
Privacy concerns are another issue to be considered with social media use. Most teenagers do not fully grasp the reach and permanence of their digital online presence. Users must be mindful that they leave behind a trail of evidence that leads back to them as a result of their online activity. This unique set of traceable activity is referred to as a digital footprint. Inappropriate messages, pictures and videos once posted online, stay online, and can have far reaching impacts on future job prospects, college acceptance and character impressions.
Teen years can be an intimidating time and social networks can and are often one of the places teens turn to for support and advice when faced with these challenges. While the benefits of this cannot be ignored it would serve us well to remember the old adage “Everything in Moderation” and make attempts to curb and monitor the use of social media by our children and educate them on the appropriate way to use it. Balance must be encouraged!