If you’re the parent of a teen or young adult, you already know that their experience of growing up is vastly different that your experience. That’s the way it’s always been: Older people looking down on younger people, shaking their heads and muttering about “today’s kids.”
And still, the human race continues.
Make no mistake: It’s hard being a teenage or young adult today, and social media has created new challenges for which many parents are unprepared.
Social media is a big part of young adult lives. High school students have always found ways to entertain themselves in those hours after school before the parents come home. Not so long ago, those hours were spent cruising the mall, hanging out at McDonalds, or playing video games at the neighbor’s house. The relationships were face-to-face. We learned to read body language, to pick up on sideways glances, to moderate our voices.
Today’s adolescents and young adults are more likely to spend their free time in an “alone-but-
not-alone” status, texting, scrolling, commenting, liking. Social media – apps like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Kik – bring them together in cyberspace while isolating them in “realspace.”
Depending on what you read and where you read it, social media is either a great plague upon this generation or one of its many blessings. The reality lies somewhere in between.
Teen invulnerability: Teens and young adults often feel “10 feet tall and bullet proof,” offering up personal information, details about their lives, families and friends, and photographs without thought of possible consequences. They are easily lulled into believe that no one is watching, they are safe, and that there is anonymity in the vastness of the internet. As adults, we know this is not true.
Pursuing likes: Finding social acceptance and external validation is of critical importance to most teenagers. Social media is one place in which they can find this acceptance – in the form of likes, loves, shares, comments and followers. Teens are easily driven by this need, making poor decisions in the pursuit of acceptance.
The curated life: It’s only natural to want to put one’s best foot forward. Everyone does it. Social media portrays an image of reality that is anything but natural. Those selfies that look so natural and unstaged are anything but. Every image, every thought, every share on social media is designed to tell a carefully crafted story about the individual posting. Faced with these false representations, it’s easy for teens (and adults) to feel “less than,” to be anxious and depressed because their lives are not nearly as spectacular as the lives they are exposed to every day on social media.
Bullying and other bad behavior: Social media, more than any other technology, can bring out the worst in people. While it’s difficult to be mean to someone in person, with very real and immediate consequences – it’s all too easy to post or text a hateful comment with little fear.
The positives of social media
Social media has connected teens and young adults as never before. Previously marginalized people are able to find one another through social media, helping to alleviate feelings of isolation and “difference.” Social media has been an important tool for connecting teens and young adults to causes that are important to them, to people who share their values and ideas.
As a tool for self-expression, social media offers more than one might ever thought possible. Music, art, religion, science, fiction, film, photography … there are groups, pages and apps for every interest. You can love whales from Frankfort; astronomy from Lexington; opera from Mt. Sterling.
At the end of the day, social media is neither good, nor bad. What matters is how teens use it and that is determined by the guidance they get from their parents and adults who care about them. Most of us didn’t grow up with social media. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn and share with our kids.
If social media is harming your children or your family, seek help. Bluegrass.org provides mental health services across 17 counties in Kentucky. The professional staff works with individuals and families to provide counseling for any mental health issue. For more information, call the 24-hour helpline, 1-800-928-8000.