Social media was designed to provide an online avenue to connect people. It worked. According to Smart Insights, in 2019, there were 3.484 billion social media users worldwide, a number up 9% from the previous year. But is this medium truly leaving us more connected? Or are we entering into a realm of social media disconnection in a time where we depend on internet connections the most?
Pew Research reports that 95% of U.S. teens ages 13-17 have access to a smartphone and, of that number, 45% of teens report they’re online “almost constantly.” Leaving an even larger question of what kind of long-term impact will this connection or disconnection have on kids?
Because social media is a relatively “new” media, long-term research is still pending. However, many studies have already concluded results are not always positive for kids. Recent research showed a correlation between a rise in teen depression and their use of social media. A correlation has also been made between the amount of time spent on social media and perceived social isolation (PSI). Why would kids that spend all day “socializing” be more prone to feel depressed or isolated?
Quality Not Quantity
Experts believe it’s the kind of connection kids are making that are the problem. Social media interactions are superficial and often lack empathy. So, while kids can have thousands of followers, they’re missing the deep connections they need developmentally.
Dr. Melissa Mariani, an Associate Professor in the Department of Counselor Education at Florida Atlantic University, tells Parentology, “Children need to have a sense of belonging, a feeling of connection with others. This is critical to their development.” It seems while social media can be entertaining, it’s not providing the same social and developmental benefits as face-to-face interactions. Connecting with peers in person allows kids to feel that connection.
This lack of connection may also impact teens and their relationships. Dr. Mariani explains, “Research suggests there’s an inverse relationship between time spent with technology and feelings of connectedness with loved ones.” The more kids are connected online, the less connected they feel to their real-life family and peers.
How can parents ensure that their children aren’t being harmed by social media?
Monitoring the amount of time your child spends on social media, especially in comparison to the amount of time they spend interacting with family and peers in-person, is essential. In fact, studies found teenage girls that had high social media usage but also had high face-to-face socialization escaped the negative impact girls with only high social media usage suffered.
Beyond that, parents can strive to set a good example and continually provide an outlet for the in-person connection that’s so essential to their development. Dr. Mariani suggests the same, “Both children and adults spend an exorbitant amount of time glued to their devices. Increasing the time spent in face-to-face contact and direct personal communication will build aspects critical in close relationships, including active listening and empathy.”
Allowing for screen-free time as a family to promote positive face-to-face interaction, ensuring your children are interacting with peers in-person and monitoring social media usage can all help your kids counterbalance some of the negative effects of social media.