I often hear adults today say how fortunate they feel not having social media sites around when they were teenagers. I have to admit I fully agree. Although I am enjoying the many benefits of social media it is not my preferred way to communicate. For teens, social media is the most essential way of communicating with each other. They use social media for many important reasons such as: staying connected to friends, planning and organizing events and activities, expressing themselves through words and images, seeking out support, sharing cool ideas, asking questions, entertainment and amusement and searching people and places. How can I argue with that? I use it for the same things!
What raises concerns, however, are how some teens are communicating on social media sites. Some of these concerns involve privacy issues, cyber-bullying and oversharing. Privacy issues have emerged because social media sites encourage users to set up a profile and disclose a lot of information. This is so you can be searchable and reachable. But sometimes we just don’t want to be connected or reconnected to someone. Nowadays anyone can find you anytime, anywhere, even where you live, work or go to school. Stalking is super easy these days. Have you ever Google Mapped your address? I have and there is a picture of my two kids getting into the car in front of our house! That makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Privacy may one day be a thing of the past.
Another major concern is cyber-bullying. It has become such a widespread problem that new laws are being explored and created to manage this serious problem. Social media has given bullies the opportunity to terrorize people anywhere in the world anonymously. The news is filled with thousands of stories of teens who end their lives because they just can’t take another day of on-line attacks. Bullies today can hide behind their screens and never have to look their victim in the eye. Unfortunately there are people in the world who prey on vulnerable people to feel good about themselves. As if bullies don’t have enough social media tools at their disposal a new app, Yik Yak, emerges. This app allows users to anonymously post about someone and something in their area. Yes, including bomb threats. Just what the world needs, another cyber-bulling tool.
Because teens have a stronger desire for belonging and recognition than any other stage in their life social media is a means to get those needs met. When teens get a lot of “friends” and “likes” it can feel rewarding. This rewarding feeling encourages them to post and share more. As sharing is always accompanied by risk and we know that teens are more inclined to engage in risky behaviors sharing can lead to oversharing. Oversharing or disclosing intimate thoughts is happening more and more. The motivation behind this is for peer feedback, emotional support, bonding and affirmation. On Youtube, by searching ‘My Story’, you can see thousands and thousands of videos of kids sharing their deepest secrets to the world. While there may be a lot of encouraging and support feedback from people, as expected, the bullies of the world litter the space with mean and awful comments. Instead of talking to trusted and close friends and family kids are letting perfect strangers know about their intimate feelings and thoughts.
I am not opposed to my teens using social media but I do remind them of the dangers and potential regrets of posts. Posts can be shared and reshared to God knows where. Once they are out there it is nearly impossible to get them back, especially pictures and videos. You just never know who has their camera out waiting for your most embarrassing moment. Did I tell you how adults today are glad Facebook, Snapchat and smartphones weren’t around in their teenage days? I highly agree. I wouldn’t want my kids or employers to see what my life was like when I was 16.
My book, Am I The Only One? Struggling Being A Teen, can help teens navigate through this tough and sometimes unfriendly world. It is written directly to the teens in hopes they understand why they do the things they do.