Millennial and Generation Z age-groups are considered digital natives, meaning they have grown up with technology all around them and accept it as an everyday part of life, rather than novel or innovative.
You teach your children to make healthy food choices, establish good study habits, drive safely, etc. But you may feel ill-equipped to teach your teens about smartphones and social media technology, since they are usually the ones showing us how to use our phones. It’s possible to be a tech-savvy parent in a digital native world.
To give some cultural context to the explosion of social media, consider that Facebook currently has 1.18 billion daily active users worldwide. An astonishing 3.25 billion hours of YouTube videos are viewed each month. Twitter boasts more than 317 million daily active users who send more than 500 million tweets per day. That’s 6,000 tweets per second! The Oxford Word of the Year in 2009 was unfriend, which means “the elimination of a friend on social media” and, in 2015, the panel selected Face with Tears of Joy Emoji as the Word of the Year — and it’s not even a word!
Today’s teenagers spend approximately nine hours each day consuming some form of digital media. The average teen spends five hours per week taking selfies. A teen will take more than 25,000 selfies in her lifetime. Consider the messages of social media: Facebook: “Like me!” YouTube: “Watch me!” LinkedIn: “Hire me!” Instagram: “Follow Me!” It’s all about ME!
Although social media can play a vital role in strengthening social connections, there is a darker, more troubling side.
* Permanent digital footprint: This is the permanent trail users of social media leave the moment they sign into any service. Teens often have a false sense of anonymity online, but one moment of poor judgment can persist for a lifetime. A popular app posts for short periods of time before “disappearing,” but followers can easily capture a screenshot and have permanent custody of the digital image.
Thirty-five percent of colleges screen social media profile usage and report problematic findings that affect admission decisions.
* Cyberbullying: Bullying is used to occur mainly in school hallways and on playgrounds. With the advent of social media, bullies now have 24/7 access to their selected victims, and are often emboldened by posting something online they may not have had the courage to say in person. Thirty-nine percent of online teens report being cyberbullied in some way, compared with 22 percent of teens without an online presence.
* Health issues: Social media use in teens ages 11 to 17 has been linked to diminished sleep quality and elevated levels of anxiety and depression. “Facebook Depression” is a phrase that first originated in an American Academy of Pediatrics report that chronicled various susceptibilities of teens with low self-esteem. Avid social media users often see themselves through the prism of “how many likes” they can get compared to their peers. “Text neck” is a term now being used to describe neck pain and damage sustained from looking down at wireless devices.
* Sexting: This is defined as sending a sexually explicit photo or message in a digital forum. Approximately 25 percent of teens have engaged in sexting, and 55 percent of those admit to sharing the images with others. Not only can this cause severe psychological trauma — some states consider possession of such images to be a felony. “Revenge porn” is posting these sexts to various social media sites after a relationship has ended. Additionally, sexual predators are increasingly using social media to find, stalk and assault victims, often spending months or even years “grooming” a victim.
* Pornography: Ninety-three percent of boys and 62 percent of girls are exposed to pornography in a digital forum. Seventy-one percent of teens have done something to hide their online activity from their parents (go to fightthenewdrug.org).
* Poor school performance: Scientific studies have demonstrated a negative relationship between social media use and GPA, with most finding that daily social media users are more likely to have a lower GPA than an intermittent user of social media.
So, what can parents do?
First, model being a good digital citizen. Show your kids what healthy consumption of social media looks like. Respect your teen’s boundaries by asking permission before posting photos and/or stories about him. Limiting the amount of time you spend digitally connected provides a healthy counterbalance to the technology-obsessed world and strengthens the parent-child bond. If children feel their parents are distracted and inaccessible, they can turn to a world of information available to them online, much of it inaccurate and not developmentally appropriate.
Second, set tech-free zones and tech-free hours. Start small, by eliminating phone usage at the table during meal times. If you are ready to kick it up a notch, ban phone usage in the car. The ride to and from school can be an important connection time for conversation. Have your teens check their phone in at night and try to stop social media use at least an hour before bedtime.
Third, do basic safety checks. Be sure all social media profiles are set to private. Usa a stock photo for the profile picture. Check your teen’s phone for apps that can be considered dangerous. Some allow users to hide selected apps on a smartphone, so icons will not be visible to parents spot-checking a phone.
Consider using a professional service to monitor your child’s online activity. You can also check with your cellular provider for tools offered, as well as control settings in app stores to prevent downloading some apps. Many social media user agreements stipulate a certain age. Allowing a younger child to have an account is a violation of the user agreement and can preclude you from protective services.
There are still many ways digitally savvy teens can bypass safety measures. No software can replace the value of open conversation and healthy parental relationships.
Social media certainly has its benefits. Fifty-two percent of teens feel it strengthens their relationships with friends. Today’s teens also care deeply about charitable causes, where social media can be used. It can help to forge relational connections, maintain long-distance friendships and stir sweet memories.
Social media is here to stay, and we can help our kids acquire healthy skills and habits in learning to use it responsibly — to have a positive impact on themselves and their community.
Jessica Peck, DNP, RN, CPNP-PC, CNE, CNL, is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University and have been practicing in pediatrics for more than 20 years. She is currently the NANPNAP secretary.