Connecting with others has been a constant part of human nature. This drive for communication led to the development of various communication technologies be it physical gadgets or computer-based programs. Part of these computer-based programs is the different social media that became and are still becoming a trend, reaching more and more audiences as years go by.
What is Social media?
Social media are computer-based technologies that enable users to create and share content whenever they want and wherever they are. This sharing of content enables users to participate and connect with other people who are using the same platform, thus, building a computer-based social network. As part of this social network, users can share and upload contents and some of these are the following: – Creating Personal Profile (that includes personal and sensitive information)- Uploading and Sharing Pictures- Uploading and Sharing Videos- Posting Status, and Personal Experiences such as reviews- Chatting or Texting- Commenting- Sharing links- Tagging photos, events, videos- Creating and Sharing Games- Modifying existing content (remixing, memes, dubbing)
Social Media Popularity
Unlike its starting days, social media use today is almost universal, its popularity is no longer confined to a single age group, but its usage is still especially high among teens.
Some of the more popular social media platforms now are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest, WhatsApp, Tumblr, YouTube, and Tiktok. The time being spent by people on these social media platforms according to studies is also increasing. This increasing usage in terms of time is a point of concern, especially among parents who constantly weigh on the benefits and risks these platforms possess.
Benefits and Risks of Social Media
As a tool of communication social media could be classified as a double-edged sword. When it comes to kids and teens, there are a lot of people and studies who and which suggest that social media has negative effects on the intellectual aspect, behavior, and emotional fortitude of children. On the other hand, defenders of social media are pointing out that these platforms enable children to interact with others and thus helping them to gain social skills while at the same time learning to use and adapt to new technologies.
As a parent it is hard to weigh the options on this issue so to help you here are some of the benefits and risks social media presents to your children:
Benefits of social media
1. Learning Technical Skills
Spending time in social media provides an opportunity for children to get the needed technical and social skills required to be productive and competent in the future. These social media though virtual gives a lot of benefits as it is a great springboard for children to discover, enhance, and practice some relevant skills like people skills (e.g., communication), and digital literacy which involves editing (e.g., photos, videos, music to be posted on their social media accounts).
2. Expanded Social Network
Social media is a great way for children to be more networked. Through these computer-based technologies, children are expanding their social networks. They can make friends (in an easier manner) from all over the world, they will not be able to meet most of these networks if not for these technologies.
These social media platforms are also a way for children to interact with their peers, though the network could not replace face-to-face and personal networks it is still safe to consider it as a possible alternative for them to interact and widen their social networks.
3. Platform for Creativity
Children’s creativity is bound to benefit from social media. These social media platformsgive children the opportunity to express themselves not only in textual form (poems, memes, one-shot stories) but as well as kinesthetic forms (dancing), musical (singing, mixing music e.g., for Tiktok), virtual (web-based paintings, posting posters, paintings, sculpted arts, etc.).
These platforms aside from being a medium of expression also serve as a platform for appreciation and criticism for the art which in some ways is beneficial to the children who created and/or posted it. Creative content shared in social media immersed children in different arts which could serve as inspiration for them to do the same and pursue a career path related to the field of arts.
4. Facilitates Communication
The role of social media has been always to connect people wherever they are and this is true for the children as well. Social media platforms serve as a medium of communication for children, through these they were able to chat and talk to their friends, peers, and relatives.
The communication being provided by social media is also not isolated to the immediate groups of a person, but as well as to other individuals and groups as children can connect and talk to people whom they knew online. These platforms facilitate intimate and casual exchange including from those people they do not know but good enough to leave intellectual and constructive criticisms (in some topics). Likewise, it serves as a medium for like-minded individuals, and thus children can communicate with people they share an interest with.
5. Helps children to be more relationship-oriented
Children who are exposed to and involved in social media could be more relationship-oriented as they have more chances to express themselves and connect with others. In these regards, they could always greet friends and relatives through chatting or commenting on their status. Likewise, these platforms enable them to stay in touch with friends they no longer meet physically and now living in other places.
6. Medium for empathy
As children are exposed to the status and experience of their peers, classmates, and relatives that are being shared in social media it becomes easier for them to show and express support especially when these people are in times of distress or pain. The support being showed through these platforms is also well-received by the person in distress.
Though virtual, the expressed support and other empathetic messages are not short of being comforting, and thus positively affect the mood of the receiver, making their feelings better and elevated. Empathy is also not confined in times of trouble as children upon seeing the achievements of their friends can share the joy of it, leaving messages of congratulations, etc. Though the empathy being given by children in social media is virtual the genuineness of it is not, and thus, this “people” skill is transferable to the real world.
7. Social awareness and related activities
Social media is a great tool for awareness. Though kids are not fond of watching or reading news, shared posts of friends and others could be seen in their feeds, and thus, they are being informed of the different social issues be it local, national, or international. This awareness of children could lead to a lot of things including participation in various fundraising activities to help and support those in need, or the application of principled actions like recycling and other environmental methods.
Risks of social media
1. Poor Mental Health
There are lots of studies saying that social media is bad for teens and children especially in the area of mental health. According to a 2015 survey and report conducted by United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics, children who are spending at least 3 hours of immersion on social media in a day are twice likely to suffer poor mental health. This immersion is a cause for concern since it is associated with delayed emotional and social development that could be attributed to the lack of immersion in a real environment including its subtle but integral features such as physical interaction (play, face-to-face communication, etc.).
The online world is not free from bullying. Cyberbullying is a kind of bullying that involves receiving nasty messages or comments, being excluded in a group, receiving insulting, derogatory, or discriminative pictures or images, etc. through virtual and social media platforms. Being at the receiving end of this kind of treatment negatively affects children and is rather consequential in their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. In a report of Cyberbullying Research Center, 13% of people who experienced cyberbullying said that it affected their physical health, while according to a report of the non-governmental organization National Crime Prevention Council, a third of people who were bullied felt hurt.
3. Low Self-esteem
The different platforms while connecting people and keeping them updated are also inculcating ideas of what is “in” and “out”, what is “beautiful” what is “cool”, in short, it triggers comparison. The comparison is not only among celebrities and themselves but also with their peers and classmates. These standards show subjective criteria which are seen only in one’s view as such only the “best” and most enviable moments are shared and shown. And thus, children see that to have and experience those things is the norm and if they do not have or do not experience those things then they are not conforming to the standards or they are below the standards. This kind of social comparison and thinking is dangerous to a child’s self-esteem, as such according to the clinical psychologist Dr. Alexandra of Child Mind Institute “If that’s their model for what is normal, it can be very hard on their self-confidence.”
4. Sleep problems
Whenever a child is using social media excessively, he/she risks depriving himself/herself of quality and adequate sleep as they have a greater chance of encountering sleep problems. When a child is too engaged in social media, he/she forgets time and thus misses the “proper” time of sleep. Staying up late also means having less sleep since they have to wake up early because they need to attend school. In addition, exposure to blue light from screens while using social media could disrupt sleep.
5. Exposure to risky behaviors
Children who are exposed to social media can view different risky behaviors such as substance abuse, alcohol, tobacco use, etc. While some children could perceive these things as bad it could not be helped that in some instances some children would think that these things are acceptable.
6. Encountering privacy and sex predators
In some cases, children and teens who are in social media are being trustful of persons they do not know personally in addition to those they knew. While trust is not bad,sometimes this could be exploited especially if given to the wrong individuals. Some young users due to trust could be convinced to send nude photos and other malicious contents without knowing that they may not be able to delete these photos permanently. This scenario could give rise to them being blackmailed or being bullied which could result in depression and at worst suicide.
7. Decreased “Real-life” Social Skills
Children and teens when using social media might be too caught up in their social media activities that they would spend less and less time in the “physical world”. Talking, chatting, and other social media activities are not bad per se, but when these activities are done without restraint then it becomes a detractor, as it lessens the time for personal and real-life relationships. Less time with these kinds of interactions means that the children have less time developing face-to-face social skills. Thus, they would have inadequate knowledge with regards to subtleties of real-life communication such as body language, and suprasegmental properties of speech like stress, intonation, tone, etc.
Parents may find the act of balancing social media’s benefits and risks hard, but it should not be the case. If social media would be disallowed or forbidden then the children are being deprived of the chance to learn skills that might be helpful in the future. Using it does not mean that the children will encounter the risks, it is a possibility but nothing is certain. This does not mean that parents should not worry or be complacent, it only means that the benefits of it should be maximized while being vigilant on the possible risks. Therefore, parents and guardians should:
1. Educate children about the pros and cons of using social media
2. Encourage children to still engage in physical activities and interaction that would facilitate real-life communication
3. Suggest and teach them how to use social media in their favor, meaning to use it constructively
4. Make rules with regards to the time being spent on social media platforms
5. Teach them the differences of the online world to the real world or of virtual life to real-life
6. Follow their children on their social media accounts so they can monitor them, but monitoring should not come as an interference with their social media activities
7. Observe the children. Initiate light talks where they could share, and offer comfort and guidance whenever something seems wrong.
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