This is a guest post from Andy Earle (see bio below) about 3 Social Media Risks for Youth.
Social media can be a great commodity for teens, providing new ways to connect with friends and express themselves. However, there can be some downsides to this new technology. Every parent should be aware of social media’s negative effects so they can teach their teens how to best protect themselves. With that in mind, here are 3 social media risks for youth.
1. Extreme Content
The first major negative outcome of social media use is exposure to inappropriate content. There’s a plethora of unsavory, unfiltered content out there on the Internet that your teen is exposed to. They might come across violent, gory, or pornographic content that is very jarring. Plus, your teen probably won’t share what disturbing images or videos they might have come across on social media. Since teens have trouble framing information, it’s critical to bring it up. Without having conversations about how your teen reacts to seeing extreme content, they might come to think of it as normal.
Social media can also be a breeding ground for hate speech. Extreme groups on the internet can publically rally behind prejudice against certain ethnicities, genders, or political beliefs. This content could be appealing to your teen or intensively offensive to your teen, either way, it’s important to talk to your teen about the freedom of expression, but also how to have healthy dialogue without hate.
Additionally, these platforms can provide teenagers with dangerous instructions for how to use drugs, or hurt themselves. Of course, a teen who has a desire to research these things can do so without social media, but it’s problematic when teens’ digital environments promote dangerous behaviors whether they’re looking for them or not. This is another topic that parents might want to bring up with their teens to discuss safety.
2. Poor Social Development
Social media can reduce your teen’s development of social skills. Since teens spend more time socializing online than in person, your teen could miss out on learning how to socialize. Specifically, your teen might not understand social cues or emotional context as well without spending time with others in person. We suggest that you encourage your teen to get face-to-face time with their peers if they mostly socialize online.
Also, teens tend to learn from their social environments, so spending too much time on social media could teach them poor behavior. The internet is not exactly a great teacher for how people should act, so teens could be at risk of imitating poor habits.
3. Sleep Loss
Social media can have a disturbing effect on teen’s sleep. Many teenagers report using social media almost constantly, likely because they feel like they will miss out if they aren’t actively checking their accounts. This can lead to using social media right up until your teen goes to bed, but this effects sleep quality. The blue light from screens imitates daylight and tricks the brain into thinking it should still be awake. Plus, the content is highly stimulating so the brain isn’t winding down for sleep. Combined, social media can reduce sleep and increase stress levels in teenagers who don’t put away their devices before bed. It might help to install parental software that limits screen time.
It’s Good to be Aware
Now you know what some of the main risks are for your teen on social media, this way you can help to keep them safe. Social media isn’t all bad, but it definitely helps to identify some of the problem areas so you can have the appropriate conversations with your teen.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.