A few weeks ago I taught a parent seminar called “Social Media 101.” In that seminar I talked about the impact of social media on teens. Most teenagers in the world today don’t remember a time when there wasn’t some form of social media. One article says, “Teens today, also known as the Facebook Generation or ‘digital natives,’ are part of the first U.S. generation to be so closely identified with technology.” Social media is becoming more than just a part of their world, it’s becoming their world. Teens are spending more and more time online, usually on a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter, and their online life is not just staying on their computer at home. Most teens now have smart phones where they are on social media networks all throughout the day. They are constantly texting, tweeting, and posting pictures via Snapchat and Instagram.
What impact does this hyper-connected social media life have on teenagers? The impact is both negative and positive. There are some good things that come out of social media for our teens, but that is a topic for a later discussion. For now, I want to focus more on the negative effects of social media on teens.
Always connected. Today teens don’t know how to disconnect. Social media has allowed them to take their life online and instead of saying goodbye to friends at school and waiting to see them the next day, they just go home and jump on their favorite social media network and interact with them for the rest of the day. With the rise of smart phones, such as the popular iPhone, teens don’t even have to wait to get home. They can now interact through social media on their way home with the help of their smart phone. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and all the other popular social media platforms are right there on their phones. One reason this “always connected” activity is harmful is because of the alarming trend of cyberbullying. Parents remember when bullying only happened at school or on the bus. Once you got home with your family you were safe. However, bullying has now moved from not only being in the school and on the bus, but online. What does this mean? If a teen is getting bullied, they cannot get away from it! The people bullying them simply continue their bullying via social media (Click here to download a great free resource on cyberbullying).
More comfortable, less sensitive. Another impact social media has had on teens is teens being more comfortable online doing things that they should be more sensitive to doing. Sexting is a perfect example of how comfortable teens are online. Many teens today are not comfortable enough to engage in physical sexual activity in person with someone, but are more than comfortable to participate in sexual activity online with someone. Social media apps like Snapchat make this extremely easy for teens. Teens feel “safe” behind their computer screen or phone so they will post nude or semi-nude pictures. Or they will engage in sexual conversation through Facebook messaging/chat or texting, but would not be comfortable to have those conversations in person. Are all teens using social media for sexting and stuff like that? Certainly not, but many are. No matter what it is, sexting or bullying, teens are more comfortable doing stuff behind their screens than they are in person. Social media has made this easier for them to embrace stuff they would not otherwise embrace because they can do it “safely” behind a screen.
Identity crisis. The section above makes it extremely clear that teens today who are highly engaged in social media are having an identity crisis. Not all of them are, but many teens are someone else on social media than they are when they are with their family or possibly church if they are involved there. Social media has made it easy for teens to not be consist and have a “double life.” Everyday I see students who tweet and post things on Facebook that totally contradict what their parents, or others that know them personally, think of them.
Has social media ruined teenagers? I don’t think so. However, there has been some negative effects on teens because of social media. It’s important to remember these things when raising or ministering to a teenager. Social media has and is changing the way they life. It is effecting who they are, what they do, and how interact. The things above are just a few of the negative effects I see social media having on teens. In the comment section below, I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you see social media having a negative impact on teens.