What the heck is my teen doing on social media!? Teen social media usage has been deemed both a compelling education resource and outlet to an uncensored medium that can have immediate interpersonal consequences to deferred academic costs. While adult’s consumption of social media has nearly plateaued over the last 2.5 years, teen use has increased faster than any other age group. As a result, adolescents have become the most studied collection of people regarding the positive and negative effects of social media use through both the amount of social media use and the platforms that are leveraged. The costs and benefits are well documented and can be persuasive indicators as to whether a preteen’s or teenager’s time on social media can be productive or problematic. Let’s explore both sides.
We know that teenage girls tend to be heavier consumers of picture-based social media applications than boys (at almost a 2 to 1 ratio), particularly those that are feedback or ‘like’ driven, such as Instagram, Pinterest or Snapchat. For the majority of female teen picture-based social media users, this does not become problematic and can be a creative outlet to post content. However, for those that struggle with self-worth, anxiety or depression, such social media use focused on gaining ‘likes’ can increase levels of anxiety or depression while negatively affecting self-worth. While there is not anything inherently problematic about receiving a ‘like’, neurological researchers from UCLA found that the brain impact on receiving a ‘like’ mirrors that of winning money or seeing pictures of loved ones. And, similarly, getting ‘likes’ begets the desire to get more ‘likes’, which can certainly reinforce increased usage of picture-based social media and posting pictures that tend to get more attention.
Boys tend to be much heavier consumers of video games, both through consoles and phone-based video games. They also are heavier subscribers to online video sites such as Youtube. We know that video game usage has been linked to a more sedentary lifestyle and decreased sleep. Some research has shown a correlation between violence in video/video games and violent actions; however, the data surrounding such findings is less conclusive. The litmus test for boys seems to be whether their use tends to be socially isolating or socially connecting. For those that tend to use in isolation and engage in social media or video games for more than two hours, there is an increased likelihood that it could become problematic.
While the mood-based and shorter-term consequences of social media use can be problematic, there is a growing body of information demonstrating the longer-term consequences of social media posts and the lack of privacy. Preteen and adolescent social media footprints are being actively used by college admissions officers, who are leveraging prospective students’ social media posts as a factor for admission. Students with endless pictures of parties or promiscuous uploads can be used as a barrier to admission. As of 2017, 35% of colleges endorse using social media posts as a factor in admissions to their college and that number has doubled over the last two years. Academically competitive colleges are more likely to view an adolescent’s social media footprint and some prominent colleges and universities have rescinded acceptances based on what they deem to be concerning social media posts. College advisors and high school guidance counselors are beginning to help adolescents think about their social media life in the same way as adults leverage their professional online and social media branding, which has provided an opportunity for high school students to leverage social media for their benefit.
Social media can have a myriad of positive effects for teens as well. The ability for teens to leverage content-driven social media for educational purposes as well as creating content through blogs has become an increasingly positive way to leverage social media. Research has demonstrated that 64% of teens have engaged in content creation using social media and blogging, with the largest increase (about 50%) in media content creation through teen blogging. Teen girls are outpacing their male counterparts in terms of online blogging at a rate of nearly 2 to 1 and that trend continues to increase, particularly for younger teens.
Looking for ways to help your teen negotiated the realities of social media? There are a number of great resources and tips that can engage your teen in a chat about social media……Common Sense Media has some great resource to help parents who may not be as plugged in as their kiddos with educational resources and information. If you are just looking for some tips about how to have a conversation and model good social media usage for your teen, The TODAY website has some good ideas about how to realistically think about kids and social media. Finally, if you like research and numbers, The Pew Research Center has a section dedicated to internet and technology studies that will satisfy those most interested in statistics and media.