How Does Social Media Affect Teens?
Raising a Teenager in the Digital Age
Suddenly, the Internet happened and it changed everything, including childhood. Whether this change was for the better or for worse depends on how you look at it.
This is the first generation that cannot imagine life without the Internet and the various devices that connect us to it, and to one another, by extension. Our electronic gadgets have become extensions of our bodies, like crutches. On the other hand, you might also say that these powerful tools give us wings. Some people believe that the Internet and its various social networking options affect us negatively while others beg to differ, and parents who cling to their pre-Internet way of life are scrambling to make sure they have the right answers to guide their kids.
Writers and researchers have flocked in to fuel the flames of the controversy with rants and data (see footnotes below for studies and articles referred to here). In this article, we'll explore both the advantages and the disadvantages of the Internet and social networking for teenagers.
Social Advantages and Disadvantages of Internet
One of the most obvious negative aspects of social networking is losing face-to-face contact with other people. Teens are sitting around with their gadgets in their hands all day long, tapping messages onto screens instead of communicating with real people. Many teenagers feel more comfortable with virtual friends than with real ones. The majority think that it is easier to chat on the Internet because they lack communication skills.
In his article The Effects of Social Media on Teenagers, Chris Crosby bemoans this negative impact on teenager's social skills and alludes to evidence to back it up:
Various reports suggest that about eighty-three percent of American youth use their phones for email, mobile internet, and texting [...] these American teens send and receive text messages 144 times a day. [...] Researchers have found that the middle-school, high school, and college students who used Facebook at least once during a 15 minute period get lower grades overall.
It is also true that parents often have no knowledge about what their kids do with their gadgets, oftentimes because parents are new to—and perhaps not adept with—the social networking scene. Crosby says that, "While kids are plugged in to social media, only about 40% of parents are involved themselves." And because parents don't know the full picture, they also don't know how to deal with a teenager's potential overuse of social media and might not even be aware that a problem exists. Therefore, social networking can be much more immediately engaging and engaged with the teenager's life than parents are, and this fact accentuates the illusion in which virtual communication feels more "real" than face-to-face communication. Since the teenager and the parent live in different worlds, they both may experience feelings of disconnect.
However, shifting the locus of social connection to the gadget in the hand has its positive side. In her piece describing the positive effects of social networking, Melissa Page cites eight:
- It educates. (Answers to any question at your fingertips. You can connect with teachers, coaches, and experts, and collaborate with peers.)
- It facilitates communication (updates, chats, debates, discussion) and gives access to real-time understanding.
- It breaks down physical, geographical, and cultural barriers. (Even if you're in a wheelchair, you can make friends with Minnesotans, Nigerians, and even your favorite authors.)
- It strengthens relationships. (You never have to lose touch with old friends. Who has time to write or wait for letters, anyway?)
- It helps people find and connect with their community. (They can easily discover when, where, and what is happening and how they can participate.)
- It boosts confidence. ("Likes" and nice comments are positive feedback.)
- It can help fight depression. (Page: "Recent studies show that many teenagers have not chosen the path of suicide, thanks to these tools. Blogging can be therapeutic for teens who are confused, down, or need to vent frustrations.")
- It's a tool for claiming identity. (The personal profile and comment box are opportunities to be, say, and figure out who you are.)
In addition, for shy people and introverts, the Internet can be a safe and controllable place to speak one's mind. The anonymous aspect of the online experience can have both a negative and a positive impact, as well: sometimes, that anonymity makes it easier for people with social problems to act out against others, but often, it is easier to find help for social problems online, where there is no stigma attached.
Although it's true that many teenagers don't know how to communicate well, this has always been true, even pre-Internet. Keeping the lines of communication open with teenagers is a timeless parental concern, but cutting teens off from social networking might not be the solution. In moderation, social networking may even offer a solution to this problem by giving teens more, not less, opportunities to "speak."
The Effect of the Internet on Education
One look at a teenager's texts is enough to give any parent hard evidence that this online language they use to talk with each other threatens to erase the meaning of everything you have ever said to them and destroy everything they've learned in school. Proper spelling, syntax, and grammar structures are replaced by all-cap abbreviations that, although they may look "cool" to the teen, often appear illegible and even stupid to their parents, who may worry about permanent brain damage.
Your teen insists it is easier and faster to write this way. Teens have become quite adept at both thumbing and interpreting this abbreviated and sloppy texted lingo, so adept that they begin to speak these non-words and even slip them into their assignments for school. Knowledge of grammar and spelling is lost and this degradation negatively affects students’ study. In Negative Effects of Social Networking Sites for Students, Steve Armstrong writes,
Students today have begun to rely on the accessibility of information that is available on the social media platforms specifically as well as the web in general in order to get answers. This means that there is a reduced focus on learning as well as on retaining information.
Many people—teenagers and adults alike—do not know that the Internet is not always a reliable source for information. Teens use their cellphones for social reasons during classes, and multi-tasking has become a major distraction in the classroom. Many teens usually spend sleepless nights on social media without the knowledge of their parents.
On the other hand, there are many huge educational benefits when the Internet and social media are used wisely. Access to diverse online communities opens the floodgates of experience, information, and data and allows students to develop more informed personal, political, and cultural outlooks. Kids without access to libraries or experts can be as well informed as those with access to every educational resource. Teenagers have more access to dialogues about politics, religion, racism, sexism, and other cultural biases. Exposure to a wider variety of viewpoints—and weeding through that information to gauge what is relevant and reliable—requires that students think critically. In addition, students will need to be adept in modes of online communication since many professions utilize and require knowledge of the Internet and social media.
Also, teens who can't attend a class for whatever reason can participate in online education (aka distance learning). For kids who can't attend a class for whatever reason, they can go online to find a wide range of educational options that offer flexibility, oftentimes at little or no cost.
At one middle school in Portland, Oregon, a teacher realized what a huge role the Internet played in her students' lives and decided if you can't beat them, join them. Although 69% of American high schools have banned cellphones, her school didn't do that: instead, they got every student's phone number and started calling habitually tardy kids to make sure they got to school on time. She started a social media program at her school and one year later, grades had gone up more than 50% school-wide, chronic absenteeism had been reduced by more than a third, and 20% more students were completing extra credit assignments.
So students' grades definitely suffer with unrestricted and unfocused use of the Internet and social media. But when schools embrace the Internet and other social media and use them for educational purposes, everyone benefits.
Economic Pros and Cons of Social Networking
Although teens do some online shopping and spend money on clothing, music, virtual credits for games, the Internet and its social networking platforms don't really have a significant negative economic impact on teenagers. However, in order to get online, teens must make a relatively large investment in gadgetry. After you add up the costs of a cellphone, plus a personal computer, plus apps, plus connectivity costs in terms of data plans, internet connection, and wifi hookups, you've run up a hefty bill. Plus, teens who have last year's model will feel pressured to measure up and spend more money, so add in the expensive social stigma attached to not having the latest and greatest gadgets.
However, there are also certain economic benefits to be found online, especially in terms of flexible job opportunities. On sites like Slice the Pie, teenagers can rate music for pay or on sites like HubPages, they can write articles that can bring them money through revenue-sharing from advertisements and by using affiliate programs like Amazon. If you become a partner, YouTube pays for popular videos (the rate is around $1 per 1000 views). If a teenager finds work online, most online workplaces can pay via PayPal, one of the most reliable ways to spend and collect money online, which offers a student account. Once a child is at least 13 years old, their parent can get them a PayPall account.
Keep in mind that these teens can continue to learn how to work online and establish a professional reputation that will help them later in life.
Social Media: The New Way of Life
In summary, social networking has both its good and bad sides. Depending on the user, it will reap great benefits or just be a waste of time.
No matter what you decide—whether the computer is a heavenly tool or the gateway to hell—your teens will probably be engaging online at some point and may be using it more than you know right now, even if you have told them not to. The Internet is ubiquitous now: it's in classrooms, libraries, and places of work, readily accessible by anyone with a device. Even if your kid doesn't have a cellphone, the kid sitting next to her does. No matter what barriers you put up between your teenager and the Internet, the digital world will seep through the cracks, eventually.
Maybe the question isn't whether social media is good or bad, but how to keep the lines of dialogue open between you and your teenagers so you can help them negotiate through this digital universe, learn how to distinguish good from bad, quality from fluff, and fact from fiction, and teach them how to use these tools to their advantage.
According to The New York Times, kids from 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day on electronic devices.
What about your teenager?
How much time is your kid spending online per day?
What is your teenager doing online?
Do you think social media is an advantage or a disadvantage?
More Food for Thought:
Armstrong, Steve. "Negative Effects of Social Networking Sites for Students." Performancing (2012).
Boris, Cynthia. "What Are Teens Spending Most of Their Money On? Surprise, It’s Not Games." Marketing Pilgrim (2013).
Crosby, Chris. "The Effects of Social Media on Teenagers." SociallyActive (2012).
Grimm, Miranda. "Extra Cash for High School Teenagers." WAHA (2013).
Kessler, Sarah. "The Case for Social Media in Schools." Mashable (n.d.).
Lewin, Tamar. "If Your Kids are Awake, They're Probably Online." The New York Times (January 20, 2010).
Page, Melissa. "9 Positive Effects of Social Networking on Teens." The WM Parenting Connection (2013).
Mokeyane, K. Nola. "Media's Positive & Negative Influence on Teenagers." Global Post (n.d.).
Thomas, Taylor. "30 Statistics about Teens and Social Networking." 10 Top Ten Reviews (n.d.).
"Top 10 Advantages and Benefits of Distance Learning." NJVU (2011).