By Chris Gadson
Social media was designed to be a tool that connects the world. What started as people sharing videos of cats playing the piano has since transformed into an integral part of how we communicate and stay informed. This connection to endless information is amplified in the lives of our children.
To protect their mental and emotional well-being, parents and educators must recognize when children are at risk and stay vigilant to protect them from harmful situations.
Social Media and Kids’ Connection to the World
You’ve probably had to confiscate your kids’ phones more times than you can count. As a former educator, I’ve had to take my fair share. The reaction that ensues can perplex as kids nearly fall apart at the thought of being without their beloved devices.
This is because Kids rely on social media to connect and find their place in the world. We, adults, use social media to go on “auto-pilot” after a long day and momentarily distract ourselves from life. Kids take this a step further. Social media becomes their life.
They use it to
· Make plans with one another,
· Discuss social events
· Keep up with trends
· and so much more
We all want to keep up with what’s going on with our kids. The problem comes when we place extreme limits on their social media use. Doing this cuts our kids off from their world, creating the fear of missing out. Whether it’s missing out on the latest news or current events, not allowing them to take part in it literally gives them anxiety.
It’s important that parents be sensitive to this and not ridicule them for connecting to the world this way. While too much social media use can be harmful, forcing them to communicate with us in ways that make us comfortable will push them away. It’s a delicate balance to stay connected to them while allowing them to have autonomy because our communication styles clash with theirs.
Factors for Anxiety and Depression
The autonomy that social media provides gives kids an outlet, but it also comes with risk factors.
With standardized testing and day-to-day social concerns, students have plenty of pressure put on them. Social media offers them some form of an escape, but when they are constantly bombarded by images of lives that look better than theirs, anxiety and depression come knocking.
Social media projects unrealistic expectations onto kids and they forget that the lives others show online are just a part of the entire picture. When kids see images of people living what they believe are perfect lives, the comparison trap comes into play and wreaks havoc on how kids feel about themselves.
Digitally enhanced images that show skin with no blemishes, or the “perfect” physique, are enough to drive kids into a dark place. Parents must remind them that everyone has imperfections so that their self-esteem is protected.
While social media presents a great opportunity for kids to stay connected with each other, the potential for traumatic events to occur is just as likely. Kids create their own rules, and these rules are often used to justify cruel behavior.
Over recent years, we’ve seen firsthand the effects that cyberbullying has on children. Data from Pew Research Center suggests that “The most common type of harassment that they experienced on the internet was name-calling, with 42% of teens saying they’ve been called offensive names.”
Kids suffer this kind of harassment when they don’t fall into categories of what others deem acceptable, such as
· Wearing certain clothing
· Seeking out particular friends
· Having a different physical appearance
· Or complying with certain behaviors
Cyberbullying stemming from false rumors is devastating and is a key contributor to anxiety and depression in children. It has such an impact that some students say it affects their feelings of safety and security at school. According to the Cyberbullying research center, 64% of students who were victims of cyberbullying said that it affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.
While there are glaring concerns social media comes with, there are things that parents and educators can do to help kids navigate them.
Warning Signs for Educators
While getting through lessons and maintaining order are challenges for teachers, they also must look out for signs of students struggling with their mental health. When students show signs of stress such as becoming withdrawn, irritable, or plummeting grades, it’s important to talk to them to find answers. Many of them may say nothing to protect themselves or keep the peace. When this happens, talking with parents and making them aware is a good first step in getting students the help they need.
What Parents Can Do
It makes sense to feel that your child is living a life that’s detached from yours because they are! In any case, setting boundaries with social media use is a good place to start to keep them safe.
The first step in setting boundaries is letting children know what’s appropriate online. Children should know that they never, under any circumstances, send any explicit images to others as these pictures could be used against them at another time. Also, parents must teach their kids about the harm caused by circulating rumors online. It’s never ok to create falsehoods about others, even if you aren’t fond of them.
Encouraging kids to speak up when someone is being harassed online can be life-saving.
Also, parents must show their kids that life online only paints part of the picture. Children naturally compare themselves to their peers. When their online life doesn’t appear to measure up to their classmates, it affects them significantly. What kids forget is just because someone looks like they are living the perfect life doesn’t mean that they are. People can create their life to look like whatever they want on social media and getting our kids to understand this works wonders for them.
Social media is a valuable tool that people use to stay connected and share their lives with others. While these are great merits, they can be destructive in the hands of children. Parents and educators have a unique responsibility to allow children to live their lives and preserve their mental health and wellbeing.
It takes time to get through to children, especially while they are forming their own identities. But staying connected to them helping navigate their lives makes all the difference.