By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – Feb. 25, 2020

Everywhere you look you see people with their heads down staring at a bright screen, often consumed with the endless communication, information and entertainment that an electronic device provides.  Cell phones, tablets, smart watches and computers are everywhere! 

Kids and teenagers growing up in this digital age are learning how to use technology at a huge rate of speed.  When used appropriately, there are so many positive benefits that come with technology and using social media.  There are also many risks and potential harmful consequences to social media use.

The Oxford Reference defines social media as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.”  There are many social media platforms that teenagers use, but some of the most popular among that age group include Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok and Twitter. Facebook, Skype, Pinterest, Vine and Linked In are other popular social media sites that people of various age groups use.

One of the best benefits of social media is it allows people to easily stay connected through messaging, video chats or photographs.  It can provide opportunities to meet people from all areas of the world without even leaving the comfort of your own home.  Social media also provides so many platforms to express feelings, thoughts and opinions. It’s a great way to explore and learn more about various interests and stay informed about current events. Social media and technology can help someone develop or discover a community or support network too.

Along with the benefits of social media, risks and negative consequences can arise.  Too much social media use can result in lower interaction with family, friends, or co-workers.  Exposure to inappropriate content like violence and pornography is highly possible without the use of monitoring and parental control applications.  Inappropriate behavior such as bullying, slander, or sending/posting risky pictures can happen because a social media user has a false sense of security behind the screen.  Often people don’t consider that their digital footprint can last forever. 

Lack of sleep or interrupted sleep is another negative side effect of too much social media use.  Some people report feeling anxious or depressed after using social media. Pictures and stories often depict someone’s “best of the best” or “highlight reel.”  The pressure to keep posts engaging, picture-perfect and time-worthy can add to feelings of anxiety.  It is easy to start comparing your life to someone else’s digital life and feel down or not good enough. 

Young people have the ability to be in contact with friends all the time, thus leaving them with a sense of no privacy and “too connected” with peers.  Despite the constant ability to stay in contact, they can also feel lonely at the same time. Due to apps that share your location or show if a message has been read, it can be apparent if someone is ignoring or not including you.

Listed below are some good reminders about using social media and technology responsibly to make the most of the positive benefits it can offer.

  • Develop and tend to your real life relationships and experiences.
  • Take an honest self-assessment of your use. How much are you using social media and why?
  • Be yourself and be nice!
  • Set limits and take breaks. For example, no posting during homework time, shut phone off or keep in another room during sleeping hours, make “technology free” rules with peers and family members.
  • Don’t share your passwords with friends.
  • Learn about privacy settings and review them often.
  • Utilize social reporting policies and sites.
  • Always think before you post.
  • If you’re a parent, monitor and set limits for your children and teen’s social media use, have honest conversations about the benefits and risks, and model appropriate social media and technology use yourself.