Tiktok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, WhatsApp and many other social media platforms have billions of users posting everything and anything you can imagine. While there are benefits with being able to connect to various people and groups, there are opportunities with these platforms that can especially affect vulnerable youth.
We'll discuss what's going on with these platforms, behaviors to look for, important discussions you should have, and tips to help create healthy habits for young users.
Why is this important to discuss?
First, let's talk about the benefits of utilizing social media. These platforms present a way to stay in touch with friends and family. Social media allows users the chance to connect with new groups or communities, for people to be creative, and to explore their identities. Some examples could include support networks for LGBTQ teens, a group discussion about the latest movie or TV drama, or online games for user to play and interact.
With so much access to so many great things, what can be bad about it? Well, social media platforms make money and grow by getting users "hooked". They want users to keep scrolling and show them content that gives them that dopamine hit, similar to a slot machine.
The Wall Street Journal published in September 2021 a report from researchers at Instagram about how it's app affects younger users, especially teenage girls, regarding things like their body image and the damaging impacts to their mental health. Instagram's parent company, Facebook (a.k.a. Meta), knew about these issues for many years without making any attempt to fix the problem.
What kind of content can young users be exposed to?
Adolescents are at risk of being exposed to violent, aggressive, or hypersexualized content. Unfortunately, there is minimal oversight when it comes to this exposure by these companies. While there are laws in place to prevent younger users from creating accounts, they are easily bypassed, for example, when they say they are older than they are when signing up for an account.
There's also the issue with cyberbullying. With platforms like Snapchat where communications are private and temporary, they can run the risk of threats and harassment without any proof (unless they take a screenshot). Users can create profiles anonymously or with fake information to prevent from being identified making the cyberbullying problem very troublesome.
The way people utilize these platforms affects what content is presented to them as well. Companies with expose users to marketing through targeted advertisements with various content that may or may not be appropriate for young users.
How to start the conversation
When talking to your children about social media use, make sure to approach the discussion in a non-judgemental and accusational way. You want to do your best to create an environment for an open and honest discussion. This helps build trust so they will want to come to you with their concerns, especially if they are being bullied or are having problems with their self-image.
Once you build on their trust, set expectations around the way they use social media. Talk about the importance of how they want to be treated and how they need to treat others. Reinforce things like being mindful on the photos they are in as they can get tagged in any photos uploaded by friends. Discuss the importance of not posting personal information like their phone number, address, etc. Make it clear that social media posts are, most of the time, highlights and not that user's "true self" to remind them to not focus on comparing their life to others.
Here are some additional tips to consider regarding your adolescents social media use.
Have a shared passwords for a family social media account
Utilize platforms like YouTube Kids or Messenger Kids
Discuss limits especially during homework and family time
Discuss where it's okay to use social media like in family areas and not in their bedroom
Have them seek consent before posting images of others
Check privacy and location settings for each social media app
Advise not to share log-in details with others outside of those they trust
Remind them to log out of public computers
Disable features like posting on multiple sites at once
Block and report people they don't know when receiving harassment or threats
Accept requests from people they know
Reinforce they talk to a trusted adult about concerning content they see online
Social media has allowed us to be more connected than ever before. We get a chance to see things we'd never expect to see, meet interesting people, and share life experiences. Utilizing these platform can be a wonderful thing. If we continue to reinforce the right behaviors with our youth, we can help build better interactions for them online in the future.
PSA Worldwide creates an abundance of resources to help educate and enlighten people regarding things like social media use, self-care, and more. Consider these products as you're building your next awareness campaign or are looking for additional resources to educate the young people in your life.
The Wall Street Journal - Facebook Knows Instagram is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show
The New York Times - Worried About your Teen on Social Media? Here's how to Help.