Let me tell you something about me. By all prevailing definitions, I am an adult. In more urban vernacular, I am a grown adult. What this means is I have a certain set of sensibilities that were molded and shaped by my environment and the cultural norms of the era. Specifically that means, I know what it’s like to grow up without social media.
As a grown, non-social media dependent adult, I have been amazed by the exponential growth in the use and effectiveness of the platforms. Print forms of media are virtually extinct. We can just share a link of an article to our friends and followers and start a virtual discussion. We can also post our thoughts – from the random and ridiculous to the powerful and poignant – at any moment and get instant feedback. We “like” (pun intended) the feedback and, almost unconsciously, start to seek it.
That’s coming from me, a grown adult who wasn’t raised on social media so my self esteem and/or worth isn’t determined by the number of fans, followers, likes, loves, retweets, or reposts I get.
But, I have children…
One of the oldest (and most popular) social media platforms is Facebook. Facebook has only been around since 2004. That’s well outside the formative years of most adults. At the same time, anyone born after the year 2000 has grown up with social media being a part of their life. This means their brain is conditioned for, and accustomed to, social media.
Without getting too academic, the pleasure sensors of the brain ignite when we see someone has liked or commented on our photos or posts. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, gets released when your brain is expecting a reward. Sometimes, just the anticipation of the reward will raise dopamine levels. Too much or too little dopamine can have a variety of effects on the body, including mania, hallucinations, and delusions. The effect of too much dopamine on a developing brain could be disastrous.
The bad news about social media is it’s always on. The anticipation of likes and comments compels teens to constantly check their accounts, and their moods swing if their desires are not met. Additionally, social media allows for teens to be mean and cruel without the consequences of doing it in person. Bullying is easier because you can post a mean comment and not see (or care) how it affects the other person. Also, the person being bullied cannot escape.
So what’s the solution?
As the grown people in their lives, it’s our responsibility to model appropriate behaviors. Teens have an underdeveloped frontal lobe, the area of the brain that controls reason and judgement. As a result, we need to help them with their decision making by monitoring their social media to ensure safe and healthy usage. Some good tips are:
- Follow them on social media. By doing this, you can monitor all their posts and talk with them about posts or comments that may be inappropriate. This helps guide how they use social media and protects their public reputation.
- Set times for when they can get on social media. Apps like Kidslox can allow you to turn social media on and off through your phones. So when they should be doing schoolwork, you can turn off social media. You can also turn it off at night so they are not using it when they should be getting their rest.
- Plan in-person activities with them and their friends. Social media use, at times, is a filler activity. If we can create experiences that are more attractive and engaging than checking for likes and comments, the small amount of dopamine released by social media won’t match what you are creating with fun activities with family and friends.
Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, but it has quickly become a permanent fixture in world culture. We must adapt to the changes in how we connect so we can continue to raise healthy and happy children. Developing a strong self-esteem is paramount for teens to fortify themselves from becoming addicted to, or traumatized by social media. As parents, it is our responsibility to stand in the gap and help them along the way. That is, until they become grown.