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How Parents and Educators can Support Healthy Teen Use of Social Media

Teens and adolescents rely heavily on their peers as they define their sense of self in the world. The teen brain is wired to socialize with friends over family, but the lockdown imposed exactly the opposite, which is why many have taken refuge in Youtube, Discord, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. And, with a steady stream of news that links social media use to mental health issues, cyberbullying, addiction, misinformation and self-harm, parents and educators are worried.

However, media experts caution against casting teen social media use as all doom and gloom. The overwhelmingly negative public discourse about adolescent social media tends to obscure the benefits.

What’s to Like?

“There are so many benefits to social media – just ask teens,” said Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, the executive director of the National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). “Connection, creativity, humor, information. It’s an amazing place to stay connected to people in your life. It’s an incredible space for artistic expression and sharing your creativity. You can laugh, be inspired, learn something new every single day. Yes, of course, there are negative aspects and risky usage but that doesn’t mean we should do away with it all.”

Only 24% of teens surveyed by the Pew Center found social media use to be negative, and a significant margin reported that social media makes them feel included (71%), confident (69%), authentic (64%) and outgoing (61%).

Also, research has found that online networks can offer a sense of acceptance and belonging, and connect youth to supportive communities and like-minded peers.

Listen, Not Lecture

Communication is key to mediating and mitigating harm.

Open, non-judgemental dialogue is not only advisable to monitor a teen’s mental and emotional state, but it also helps to better understand their online life.

Teens are best approached with a spirit of curiosity and inquiry: What platforms do you use? Can you show me how it works? How do you choose to use it? Do you create content, interact with others, or just passively spectate? What do you like about it? What are the downsides? How do you deal with adverse interactions?

Prepare, Not Protect

Developmentally, adolescence is characterized by experimentation and risk-taking which has always been a source of worry: teenage pregnancies, reckless driving, substance abuse and violent conflicts, to name a few. Social media is a new domain in which teens enact the turbulent transition to adulthood. Rather than face the challenges with over-protection and prohibition, Lipkin advises parents and educators to prepare youth for the realities of the world that awaits.

“Considering the negative and potentially dangerous effects, should youth be prohibited or significantly limited from driving?” said Lipkin. “If not, how might they be supported to mitigate any potential damage? We have systems in place to train, educate and protect them. We have accepted that driving is a skill humans need in their life. We need to have that same thinking around navigating social media and our complicated information landscape. If we are actually going to prepare youth and teens to be college and career ready, they must be media literate.”

Model, Not Meddle

One significant way that adults can support healthy teen use of social media is to model the behavior they want to see. Adults may want to examine their own use of mobile phones and social media before casting aspersions.”

Modeling effective use of technology is a pillar of effective parenting in the digital age. While concerned adults may feel the temptation to surreptitiously monitor and police their children’s online activity, building trust and setting the example of healthy habits is a more viable route.

We pave a better path forward by expanding the lens to think about social media use as a universal concern. Adults and adolescents should work together to turn social media minuses into pluses with open minds, fluid dialogue, improved education and by modeling good habits.

Excerpted from  “How parents and educators can support healthy teen use of social media” from KQED’s MindShift. Read the full article for more details.

Source: MindShift | How parents and educators can support healthy teen use of social media, https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/58624/how-parents-and-educators-can-support-healthy-teen-use-of-social-media | © 2021 KQED INC

If you have concerns about your child or teen, CHC Care Coordinators can arrange a free 30-minute consultation so you can explore options with an expert. We invite you to call or email us at 650.688.3625 or careteam@chconline.org to set up an initial Parent Consultation appointment. CHC teletherapy services are available now.

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