A few months ago, I was speaking about teenagers and social media with one of Australia’s most sought-after youth speakers. He speaks to thousands of high school aged kids every year and believes that parents would do well to keep teenagers off social media until at least 16 years of age (Year 10 at school). There’s plenty of research to support this view that the developing teenage mind is generally ill-equipped to handle social media.
Although ‘Insta-Chat-Twitter-Face’ have all nominated 13 as the minimum age for signing up, it doesn’t mean that parents have to give their teenagers their own account and then leave them to it. Maybe there are some 13-year olds who are able to handle social media in a positive way, but for others it creates a world of problems, including the inability to have respite from the ‘pack’ after walking out of the school gates each afternoon.
Using MRI technology, the UCLA Brain Mapping Centre in California have been researching the impact of social media on the developing teenage brain. The results show an addictive-like response for many teens when using social media. The reward circuitry region of the brain becomes particularly active when they see ‘likes’ on their posts; this is the same area of the brain that is activated when we win money or see photos of people we love.
Facebook has been around the longest (15 years) and yet researchers are only now starting to understand the links between mental health issues from too much social media use. Among the most common negative health outcomes are – depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, envy (from constantly comparing yourself to everyone’s carefully curated ‘highlights reel’), FOMO, communication issues e.g. misunderstandings that occur through the inability to see facial expressions or pick up the tone of comments.
The article from MammaMia below gives a 20-year old’s perspective on social media. Billi’s generation were, in effect, the “guinea pigs for growing up with social media” and she talks about the constant comparison with everyone’s seemingly perfect lives and the self-destructive obsession with gaining ‘likes’ as the measure of acceptance.
Perhaps one of the most important comments that Billi makes is “Parents really are crucial at teaching young girls how not to get caught up in this world… My mum has taught me that to draw your sense of self-worth from an audience of people, most of whom you will never meet, is a guaranteed pathway to insecurity.”
The thing that I personally learned from this article was the importance of parents taking an active role in their teens use of social media. Billi writes about her mum pulling her up if she was following someone who wasn’t a good influence, but also suggesting accounts for inspirational, positive role models.
Another finding of the UCLA research was that the developing teen brain has difficulty self-regulating their screen time; the addictive nature of social media only compounds this problem. Consequently, as parents, we have a role to play in helping place parameters around time spent on social media.
Personally, we haven’t given our teenagers their own social media accounts yet, but when the time is right, it needs to be something that we guide and train them in. We wouldn’t just hand them our car keys on their 16th birthday and wish them all the best. When I learned to drive, not only did my dad give me the practical skills to operate the car, but he also taught me about the responsibility that came with driving, about how a car—if used incorrectly— could be a weapon with devastating effect.
Similarly, social media can be an amazing tool for connecting people and giving voice to effect positive social change. Used incorrectly, the outcome can be equally devastating. But if we’re teaching our children to be confident and secure in who they are, hopefully they’re less likely to go searching for this validation from social media. If we’ve taught them to be authentic and real, both online and face-to-face; if we’ve role modelled respectful engagement with others—even those who share opposing views, then it’s more likely that social media will be a positive addition to their life.
Read the full article: https://www.mamamia.com.au/teenage-girls-social-media