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Is Social Media Helping or Hindering us Socially?

by Jenni Smith

Most of us have liked a status on Facebook, filtered a photo on Instagram or hash-tagged something trending on Twitter. Social media is becoming a part of society. But what kind of impact is social media having on our children’s ability to socialize?

Social media allows us to connect with each other 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Friends and family abroad can be in touch with you and see what’s happening in your life. You can access networks for marketing products, receive communications from groups or organizations, and support causes that are important to you.

With the increasing use of and reliance on smart phones, these portals of communication with the world can be in the palms of our hands for extended periods of time. To some of us, this can become consuming. Our sense of importance and our ego can be impacted by our experiences on social media. Young people have told me that the number of Facebook friends they have is a defining factor to their social popularity. Some of these “friends”, they admit, they barely know. Now I am seeing studies considering a link between selfies (self-photos) and the condition of narcissism – a personality disorder in which people continuously admire their own attributes.

What about when you’re in the face of a social conflict? Many people benefit from space and time to process and plan for dealing with conflict in their lives. Yet social media can make conflict more immediate and sustained which can aggravate situations. Due to the ease with which rumours and photos can circulate, social media can also promote bullying which we know can have a number of detrimental emotional consequences. Social media can make it particularly hard to find that space and time away from someone or something.

What is particularly concerning about social media is that large populations of young people are continuously connected. The constant beeping and buzzing of messages is a distraction during the day and may cause sensitivity or anxiety issues. Also, having the devices in our bedrooms at night may cause sleep issues. While young people are developing cognitively, emotionally, socially and physically, they are still forming their ability to set limits, foresee consequences, build and repair relationships and use good judgment. And yet these are traits required to maintain a balance so that social media usage remains healthy and positive.

It is up to parents to supervise and set limits on social media use so that young people can get adequate space and time. For parents, this means:
  1. Being informed – know what social media outlets your child is using and learn about them.
  2. Setting limits – get your child’s passwords, observe their online behaviour, provide spaces in the home where online behaviour is permitted and monitored, and limit internet usage.
  3. Role modeling – what does your online behaviour look like? It might be helpful to adopt a no electronics rule around meals or other times with family or friends.
  4. Teaching – talk about values and rules as they relate to online social behaviour. The internet is not a wall to hide behind; the golden rules still apply.
  5. Being responsive – talk to your teens about cyberbullying and be watchful of any signs that things are changing for them. Ask how they are doing; check in with them.
  6. Providing social outlets – social media is not a replacement for face-to-face interactions in which young people can build social skills. Relationships are an important part of life and while we vary in our tendencies, having the skills and abilities to interact with others is essential.
Social media is changing our children’s ability to socialize and is having an impact on our overall wellness. While there are tremendous benefits to being able to interact with others at any time, there can also be some detrimental consequences. While we are still learning about the impact social media is having on our children, much like anything in life, a healthy balance is required.