A major topic of discussion among parents is the effect of technology and social media on the development of children and adolescents. The issue is certainly relevant, considering that 95% of children between the ages of 12-17 are now online and 80% of them are using social media websites (Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project, 2011). Undoubtedly, there is value to the connections created via social networks, including access to resources and the ability to build a sense of community when one faces physical, geographical, or even social limitations. Nevertheless, it is important for parents to offer guidelines and invite conversations around social media usage to facilitate their teenagers’ optimal growth.
Privacy: Who has access to the teenager’s social media site(s)? Sometimes teens share passwords with friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, etc. Sharing access may mean something to the teenager, such as a strengthened bond in a relationship. Finding out what privacy means is critical and may tell parents something about the teenager’s view of themselves and their sense of individuality and boundaries.
Content: What sort of messages or images is the teenager putting out? Is there a theme? There is usually an underlying purpose to a message. It may speak to a teenager's wish to belong or bring attention to him or herself. It may also expose a hidden talent, skill, or interest (e.g., writing fantasy or fiction on literary sites, fascination with political topics demonstrated by following certain groups or media feeds, etc.).
Duration: How much time is spent engulfed online? When a teenager is constantly engaged in social media, they are limiting in person contact and missing social learning cues, such as the ability to accurately read facial expressions and emotions. They may also be avoiding human interactions and using social media as a form of escape.
Since social media is so omnipresent in the lives of adolescents, there is benefit to recognizing its meaning and setting proper limits so that no damage is done to their social and relational development. Knowing the answers to the aforementioned questions also helps build a relationship between a parent and adolescent, as it demonstrates investment and interest in their lives. Creating boundaries around the use of social media also models the need for regulation around use and helps teenagers to develop their own capacity to do so. The value to logging off is essential not only to reinforcing in person connections with others but also to the teenager expanding their sense of self outside of the virtual world.
Posted by Asya Brodsky, LSW, CADC