There’s no arguing that social media has had a huge impact on the younger generation. In fact, even though they’ve grown up with social media, the lives of today’s teens are affected in both positive and negative ways, and if you’re curious about the details, you’ve come to the right place. The truth is young people have had a tumultuous time with social media, years before their prefrontal cortex had fully formed, thus making their adolescent brain especially susceptible to the influences of digital content, peer comparisons, the pressure to perform for a camera, and the glaring inequities among those from diverse upbringings.
There’s nothing like a flashy social media best friend to make American teenagers question the wealth disparity in their own community. Furthermore, with high school students watching even younger peers gain fame and virality through risky behaviors, they’ve had to weigh the benefits of committing to social pressures that may lead to bad decisions in the name of 15 minutes of digital fame or popularity. Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon and see what teenagers have learned from tumultuous social media-ridden upbringings.
How Long Has Social Media Been Around?
After Sputnik was launched by the Russians in late 1957, people all over the world began to realize that it was science and technology that will advance the world forward in so many ways in the future. In 1962, a man named J.C.R. Licklider came up with the idea of a network of computers that could talk to one another. His intention was to allow long-distance communication even if a missile destroyed all of the lines and wires needed to make communication possible.
Flash forward to 1991, which is the year the World Wide Web came on the scene. Between the early 1960s and 1991, several advancements made the web a possibility, and today, it’s difficult to understand how we ever lived without it. Naturally, the Internet has had its ups and downs, mainly because all of the kinks had to be worked out, but one thing is certain: the younger generation’s teen years have been shaped by this invention in mostly good ways.
What Is Social Media?
Social media are outlets that allow people to share information with the rest of the world. This information can include text, photos, videos, and a few others. Examples of social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, but those are just a few of the many outlets available today. In the late 1990s, the Internet experienced a growth spurt that contributed to the development of social media, and these days, new outlets and tools are popping up every day.
The thing is, people under 30 years of age grew up with these advantages, which naturally affected their early adolescence, teenage years, young adulthood, and beyond. Exactly how their development was affected has been documented in numerous studies, including both the pros and the cons. One thing is sure, however, and that is the fact that this generation grew up with amazing advances in technology, even though to them, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Let’s dive deeper into the reality that is social media and how it has affected this generation.
The Advantages of Social Media
As you can imagine, there are numerous advantages to using social media, particularly when done in a healthy way. As the adolescent years are all about experiencing different social situations and meeting new people, these digital outlets allow teens to get social with people all over the world, practice open communication, and manage their emotional responses to viewpoints with which they may not agree.
Thus, it expands their views of the world and can make the high school experience much easier, in part because no trip to the library is ever required to get information for writing essays and to study for tests. Of course, exposure to diverse viewpoints and enhanced convenience are not the only advantages to teens using the Internet to get social with others.
Thanks to social media, teenagers can:
- Build social networks and diverse social relationships
- Get support from others if they have a disability or feel excluded from the world
- Express themselves by being artistic and innovative
- Be entertained at any time
- Keep up with current events and research older ones
- Learn from others and teach others about anything they want
Social media can help teens find great role models, learn new coping skills (like how to manage intense anger or how to deal with symptoms of depression), and even find the best video games on the market today. If a person feels alone because they have some type of special need, going to the Internet and finding someone with the same affliction is super-easy and helps both people feel better about themselves. Teens can get good grades more easily and efficiently because they can research subjects online, and taking advantage of social media can even help them learn to deal with certain mental health conditions and find community in likeminded (similarly afflicted) peers.
Part of the reason social media is so impactful is due to the sheer amount of time most young people spend online. For decades, people of all ages have been fascinated with the incredible amount of knowledge that exists online with the tap of a finger, and this instant access has affected their brain development and even their sense of self. Simply put, the Internet has allowed teens and adults alike to grow academically, socially, and even emotionally all very independently, thanks to its many gatekeeper-free permission-less tools and opportunities.
Yet another advantage of teens using social media outlets is that, since they can communicate with people all over the world, it is much easier to learn about many different cultures, which is always a good thing. They can also learn about what’s going on in other parts of the world, which teaches them that there is more to life than their corner of the world and that what affects people elsewhere can affect them as well.
If teens feel disconnected in any way, which can include LGBTQ teens, they can quickly feel more connected and a lot better about themselves because social media outlets can help them connect with other LGBTQ teens. Once that connection is established, it can help all of these teens feel better emotionally about their situations. This is why so many teens consider going online a more positive experience for them than a negative one.
The Disadvantages of Social Media
Just like most other things in life, social media outlets have disadvantages as well as advantages, and it isn’t difficult to figure out what those disadvantages are. For one thing, being online can disrupt teens’ sleep and cause distractions. Bullying has become a serious issue with online accounts, and peer pressure can be worse with social media accounts (especially keyboard warriors who hide behind edited pictures and faceless aliases) than it is in real life. In fact, if teens are prone to conditions such as depression and anxiety, those things can be made worse when they spend a lot of time online.
These problems are also made worse because the Internet is available 24/7, so if teens get online in the middle of the night, they can potentially stay online all night, which causes a host of both physical and emotional challenges. Whether it’s the first time or the thousandth time they’ve visited their social media pages, the effect is the same. Even having problems logging on can be a source of stress for a teenager who is used to being on the Internet all the time.
Teens also find out things going on in the world through the Internet, which includes information that they might be better off not knowing. This can increase their anxiety levels and even their depression. Even older teens who go online infrequently can feel a decreased satisfaction with their lives. To make matters worse, much of this information is false or misrepresented, thus causing teens stress and societal pressure that is rooted in a lie.
If you review any of the recent research regarding social media outlets and their ability to directly affect teens’ lives—and not always in a good way—you can discover a lot of advantages and disadvantages, so the important thing to remember is that all teens should limit their exposure to social media. This, of course, is very difficult for most teens because, let’s face it, they’ve grown up with online exposure, and therefore, it’s very difficult for them to stay away from it.
One thing parents need to keep in mind is that every time a teenager or young person posts something publicly online, they’re at risk of being bullied or harassed, not to mention blackmailed or even stalked. Further, spending large chunks of time online causes both social changes and emotional changes in teens. Some teens can even start to feel uncomfortable around real people because they start to believe that people they are communicating with online have better lives than they do.
Yet another disadvantage to social media use is that it can cause people to get impatient if they don’t see results right away, which primes their teenage brain to expect an unrealistic rate of responses and feedback as compared to the real offline world. Think about this: it used to be that when you needed information, you had to wait to get it because it required a trip to the library, buying a book or getting it shipped to you, or sending snail mail. Today, information and access is literally at people’s fingertips, so people are conditioned to expect getting what they want instantaneously. Because of this, teens and adults alike are more impatient than they ever were in the past.
Is This a Lost Cause?
The news, of course, is not all bad. Academically and socially, teens can grow and become smarter through regular exposure to high-value information online (including on credible social media pages). In fact, today’s teens are used to being online and already know the dangers, so most of them are more “aware” than ever before in many ways. If used properly, social media can even help them gain self-confidence and knowledge, and it can teach them just about anything they wish to know. And let’s face it, when it comes to convenience, nothing beats the Internet.
If you’re concerned about your own teen, there are things you can do to help reduce the negative effects of being online and make sure they are using social media responsibly. These include:
- Talk with your teen. Teens need to know that a lot of what they experience online is false or unrealistic. Remind them of the dangers as well so they can know what to look out for and so they can recognize the negative parts of being online, the dangers of unhealthy or unrealistic comparison, and the rampant false information and misleading content plaguing us all.
- Always set limits. Decide on your teens’ bedtime ritual, and encourage them to leave their cell phones and computers out of their bedrooms. Encourage them to get off the Internet at least an hour before they go to sleep.
- Monitor your teens’ computer use. Let your teens know you’ll be monitoring their social media accounts so they can know what to expect. Of course, you need to follow through with this so they know you’re serious. It’s a good idea to monitor their accounts once a week or more so you know what your child is exposed to anyway.
- Make sure they stay social in the real world. Your teens should be getting together with their friends in real life and not just online. Make sure they get out into the real world on a regular basis so not everything is done virtually.
- Tell them specifically what you consider inappropriate. Teens don’t always know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate on the Internet. With teens, the line between these two things can be a bit blurry, so it’s up to you to make it clear to them what is acceptable and what isn’t.
As you can see, parental involvement is imperative when your goal is to make sure your teen’s online experience is more positive than negative. In most cases, this is not a problem because young people are much smarter than most people realize. With a little guidance, most teens can make good decisions, and they deserve the freedom to explore that autonomy. Besides, it’s not a good idea to take away their ability to do research for school and learn things in greater detail just because some teens suffer from negative side effects.
Like anything else, being in constant communication with your teens is the best way for them to enjoy the positive aspects of social media and experience fewer negative aspects as a result. Studies have shown that many parents have no clue what their teens are posting online, but you can change that by following some of the tips mentioned earlier. In short, teens being online doesn’t have to be a negative experience if you talk to them about potential problems and keep the lines of communication open the entire time.
What to Do with This Powerful Tool
The Internet is not going away, so it’s good to know that it can provide a lot of positive benefits for young people. The thing is, they are so used to these advantages that they don’t consider them anything out of the ordinary. This can be considered either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.
New insights into the effects of social media outlets on young people have largely proven that the positive aspects outweigh the negative ones, and in addition to what’s already mentioned, they include:
- It helps small businesses grow.
- It helps spread news faster.
- It helps people support one another.
- It helps build relationships.
- It helps teens figure out who they are.
The internet and social media has taught young people they don’t have to be in the same city or country as another person just to be friends, that they’re not alone just because they’re different, that they can support one another regardless of where they live, and that they can make new friends anytime they like. Teens have been able to gain peer approval by spending time online, and since using social media has been proven to have a positive mental effect on a lot of people, it’s unlikely that anyone under the age of 30 will ever stop making it a part of their lives. When it comes to social influence, they can be either good or bad, but as long as teenagers are aware of the possible dangers of spending so much time online, the experience should be an overall positive one for them.
Some Final Words
Since people of a certain age have grown up with social media and the Internet, they simply don’t know anything else. They have gone through the best and worst of being online and have lived to tell about it. They have learned all about its pros and cons, but they have decided that in the end, they still prefer a world with the Internet to one without it. For the ones who limit their time online and remain aware of the pros and cons of using social media on a regular basis, the experience is usually a net-positive one.
That being said, it is always a good idea for even young people to know what the dark side of using social media is like, if only so they can know what to look out for and what to avoid. Fortunately, people in this age group are completely comfortable with online activities and are learning more about what’s on the Internet every day, thus enabling them to master and achieve more in terms of education, career, business, and new innovations than any prior generations.