The spread of harmful ideas is nothing new, so when two friends recently shared interesting articles about the perils of social media, it sparked me to write this week’s post and revisit some of the themes from the documentary ‘Screenagers’.
I can’t think of a more contentious issue for parents now than social media and our children’s use of it. If you watched ‘Screenagers’ you may have walked away with a feeling of dread – the nature of the beast – and a feeling of hope – showing boundaries, love, and consistency. And while boys, on average, spend 11.3 hrs on gaming, teens now spend up to nine hours a day on social platforms (30% of that allocated to social media interaction and 60% facilitated by a mobile device).
Why? I understand that social media interaction is important for humans, after all, we are social beings and need to feel connected with one another. It is a space for self-identity, self-expression, community building and emotional support, for example. Many a time YouTube comes to my succour for all sorts of things – from craft ideas and helping find solutions to my I-Phone issues to watching make-up tutorials and working out to Zumba routines. It has received high marks for bringing awareness of other people’s health experiences, for providing access to trustworthy health information and for decreasing respondents’ levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
So, what’s the big deal when it comes to pre-teens and teenagers using social media?
The articles Instagram wants souls and The Terrible Teens offer explanations in why the pre-teen and teenager frontal lobe part of the brain is not developed enough to process situations involving impulse actions and reactions. And why this then can lead to them putting themselves in precarious situations on social media.
In other words, adolescents suffer from the cerebral equivalent of defective spark plugs. The frontal lobes are the drivers of the brain’s executive function – responsible for the planning, self-awareness and judgment calls. In other words, a ‘check-point’ for impulses originating in other parts of the brain. But in the teenage brain, these links are still being built, starting from the back of brain and moving forward. Meaning the frontal lobes are the last regions to be connected. This doesn’t happen until their 20’s (although I would argue that could be even later ; 0 )
How does this impact their interactions with social media? It implies they psychologically have trouble assessing situations and showing the proper reaction.
Instagram would be considered by many adults and teenagers alike as an introduction app. It comes across as relatively easy to use, harmless and straightforward. Teenagers see it as a one-stop shop for lots of reasons: it’s popularity, it’s private and untraceable conversations, it’s disappearing pictures and content. It can be used for self-promotion, pornography, and connecting/hooking up – selfies anyone?!
But what is scary, as I have just discovered, is that Instagram has a dark underbelly.
Hashtags are so huge, they allow Instagram users to search and troll an archive of subjects such as #snapchatnudes, #kikme, #suicide. What chance does a teenager have if they neurologically don’t have the links in their brain to make a judgment call? Its MAP setting can easily be turned on to allow photo and video locations to be tracked, a concern when it comes to children’s physical safety, particularly if they have a public profile as their exact location can be known.
And it was recently deemed the worst app for mental health and wellbeing in a recent study. App use leads to increased anxiety, depression, bullying, and FOMO. Additionally, this app is well-known to destroy young girls’ self-worth with its comparisons and competition.
Finally, Facebook owns Instagram and although the app is free, Facebook has the power and right to sell the pictures and videos you post to advertisers who pay big money to have the attention of young children and teens.
Now, I am a user of Instagram and I enjoy using it for the purposes of promoting Sydneymum and sharing interesting photos and the storytelling nature of it. I don’t use it for self-promotion and I am adamant about privacy. I do not condemn its use, I mean all these social media apps are part and parcel of our lives and certainly of our children’s.
Both articles list some helpful tips and what is PARAMOUNT as parents is we take over our kid’s brains and we become their frontal lobes until their brains are fully wired. We make boundaries and show consistency and stay ready to LISTEN (to the best of our ability) to their reasons as to why.