Social media is evolving fast and has become an integral part of our daily lives. The number of people using social media is huge and is continuously increasing. It is therefore hard to keep our children away from social media. Children are growing up surrounded by various social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which makes it an important part of their lives. 95% of youngsters have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online almost all the time. While it has many benefits, it can also influence kids in the wrong ways. Let us have a look at some of the positive and negative influences of social media on kids.
Positive impact of social media on kids
Social media is a great platform to interact with others, learn from them, communicate, and have fun only if used carefully. Here are some of the benefits of using social media for kids.
- Social media helps to connect with family and friends anywhere and anytime. Social media is an easy way to nurture existing relationships with family and friends who have moved away by sending messages, sharing photos, making calls, or hosting video chats to stay in touch. Kids can stay connected with their friends for a longer time online even if they do not meet them in person. For those kids who struggle to make social connections in the physical world, social media can provide a virtual alternative and prevent kids from feeling isolated. According to a survey by Common Sense Media, 52% of teens feel that social media improved their friendships. Additionally, the study has also found that nearly 30% of social media users believed that social media use has increased their confidence.
- Social media helps to build technical expertise and a practical understanding of technology in your child. By spending time online, kids learn necessary technical skills that can be of help to them in the future.
- Social media is used by kids not just to socialise but also to express themselves creatively. Students form study groups on social media and constantly share ideas and study material. The creation of blogs, podcasts, and videos also helps kids in developing new ideas.
- Social media helps kids to network with people globally and learn about their cultures and ideas. This helps to develop a bigger perspective on life and people.
- Social media gives kids knowledge about the world. They may not watch TV but through social media, they know about what is going on in their neighbourhood, state, country, etc. This information keeps them updated and can prove to be very useful.
- People share personal stories and things they are struggling with online. By showing support and encouragement through messages and comments kids learn to show empathy. They show that they understand their situation completely and seeing others stride through difficult times can be very inspiring for the child and opens new perspectives.
- Using social media, kids can conduct fundraising campaigns as well as raise awareness of important issues and contribute to making an impact on society.
Negative impact of social media on kids
Young minds are easily prone to any influence on social media platforms. It can impact them in several negative ways like:
- Low self-esteem: Constant comparisons and the need to showcase perfect lives leads to lowered confidence, self-esteem, and lots of negativity. Though we know that images on social media are manipulated, they can make us feel insecure about how we look and envious of other people’s lives. We are aware that people just tend to share the positive highlights and not the lows of their lives but still we get envious and dissatisfied scrolling through a friend’s airbrushed photos of a beach holiday or them getting better grades.
- Increased anxiety and depression: Spending too much time on social media makes children feel lonely and dissatisfied with their lives leading to anxiety and depression.
- Fear of missing out (FOMO) and social media addiction: Watching other people’s posts on Facebook and Instagram for example makes the child feel that others are having more fun or living better lives. This triggers a feeling of missing out on things and tends to impact self-esteem, and anxiety, and fuels even greater social media use leading to addiction. FOMO can lead you to mindlessly check for every alert even if it means taking risks while you are driving, missing out on sleep, and prioritising social media over real-life interactions.
- Indulge in risky behaviour: Selfies have become quite popular in recent times. To click selfies, kids scale buildings or pose with weapons or stand too close to moving transportation, and have caused a lot of fatalities.
- Wasting hours: Children waste a lot of hours on social media. Be it browsing, or talking to friends, students waste precious time that they will never get back. If most of a child’s hour is spent on social media, it could result in poor performance and bad grades in school.
- Impacts essential daily activities: Spending too much time on social media platforms cut off children from real interaction with family and friends.
- Inappropriate content: Social media has a huge amount of content and children can be easily trapped into viewing inappropriate content on the platforms. Characters on TV and in video games often show behaviours — like drinking alcohol, using drugs, and smoking cigarettes — as cool, fun, and exciting. Kids and teens get tempted to try them as they seem acceptable.
- Cyberbullying: It becomes easy for bullies to target and reach their victims on social media platforms. They spread fear and shame among victims and can lead to undesirable effects.
- Sharing too much information: Sharing too much information about personal life such as relationships, friendships, family matters or your daily routine makes children vulnerable to identity theft amongst other issues.
- Dangerous viral trends: Internet challenges can be fascinating to kids who can be both impulsive and drawn to behaviour that gets attention – especially in social media. These challenges however can be extremely dangerous and even prove to be fatal.
- Suicide and Self-harm: Social media usage increases the risk of suicide and self-harm in children. Children have easy access to information related to this and cyberbullying is a leading cause of suicide in kids.
- Physical health: Social media use makes children easily prone to diseases like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Constant use also affects their vision and sleep patterns.
- Grooming: Child grooming is a major online threat to children. It involves meeting a child to sexually abuse them or encourage them to take part in sexual activity or send them indecent images.
- Radicalization and Extremism: Children are easily vulnerable to content that makes them convert to extremist viewpoints.
What’s driving your social media use?
Most people access social media through smartphones. While it is convenient, it also makes social media accessible all the time. This hyperconnectivity can trigger impulse control issues, and also constantly checking updates affects concentration and focus, disturbing your sleep and making you a slave of your phone.
Companies make money online by catching your attention, keeping you online, and having you continuously check for updates. Similar to addiction to things like gambling or alcohol or drugs, social media use creates psychological cravings. Getting a like or share on your posts activates the release of dopamine, the same chemical that is released when you win on a slot machine or take a bite of chocolate or light up a cigarette. The more you are rewarded, the more you want to stay on social media even if it harms other aspects of your life.
Fear of missing out or FOMO can keep you hooked to social media all the time. While things can wait, FOMO makes kids believe otherwise. Kids can feel that not being online can keep them left out of important conversations at school or the latest news or gossip. Also, kids feel that their friendship may suffer if they don’t immediately like, share or respond to their friend’s posts. They also get a feeling of having missed out on an important invitation or develop the idea that people are having a better time than them.
Many of us use social media whenever we’re in a social situation and feel anxious, awkward, or lonely. Social media interactions distract you from face-to-face interactions that could help relieve anxiety.
Excessive social media use can also be hiding underlying problems such as stress, depression, or boredom in kids. They could be using social media to distract from feelings of loneliness or boredom.
The vicious cycle of unhealthy social media use:
Excessive use of social media creates a negative cycle as follows:
- Whenever you are lonely, depressed or anxious, or stressed, you use social media to get rid of boredom and feel connected to others.
- Increased use of social media leads to FOMO and feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, and isolation.
- These negative feelings affect your mood and lead to depression, anxiety, and stress.
- This in turn triggers you to use social media more and the downward spiral continues.
What is the solution?
Social media has several benefits, and it is not recommended to keep kids completely off it. Parents can take charge and educate children about the social media platform and its use to ensure the kids are saved from any harm. Here are some guidelines that may be helpful.
1. Determine if your child is ready to join social media. As parents, you can gauge their maturity levels and decide whether to allow them or not.
2. Talk to your kids about what social media is and what it can be used for. You can educate your child to not interact with strangers or share much personal information on social media. The child should also be taught to report to the site management anything offensive they receive through online viewers. Tell them to maintain good conduct on social media platforms and inform you immediately of any harassment online. They should also be alerted about online scams.
3. Limit screen time so that you ensure that the child makes time for physical activity and face-to-face interactions. A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that reducing social media use to 30 minutes a day can result in a significant reduction in levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep problems, and FOMO.
4. Encourage exercise and offline interests. Get your child away from social media by encouraging them to pursue physical activities and hobbies offline. Exercise is great for relieving anxiety and stress, boosting self-esteem, and improving mood. The more engaged your child is offline, the lesser would be their dependency on likes and comments online on their post.
5. Enforce “social media” breaks by for example banning social media until your child has completed their homework in the evening and not allowing phones at the dinner table or in their bedroom, as well as planning family activities that minimise the use of phones or other devices. Also, ensure phones are switched off before sleep.
6. As parents, you should research the popular apps your children may be using and learn their functionalities, so you may know how it affects them.
7. By practising safe and healthy social media behaviours, parents can demonstrate to kids the best practices to follow online.
8. In case of any harassment online, parents must immediately contact the police.
Social media is here to stay and we must make sure that it benefits rather than harm kids. With regulation and education, we can ensure that kids benefit from the use of social media.