WICHITA, Kansas – Almost 90 percent of teens use some sort of social media, and it causes just as much angst for parents as it does their kids.
Young people cling to likes, follows and retweets as a status symbol, and it leaves moms and dads wondering what that’s doing to their sense of self worth.
A group of high school seniors sat down with KSN’s Mark Davidson to discuss the impact of social media on their lives.
Here’s a synopsis of that conversation.
VIDEO | Panel Discussion
The five high schoolers represent a small slice of the population, but our hope is that their insight offers a bigger picture view.
All five claim Twitter is their preferred platform, but they use a number of social media outlets.
Each spends, on average, at least 30 minutes a day on social media.
Three of the five admit to using it for at least an hour.
But more than the amount of time, there are concerns over what they’re seeing.
They’ve all witnessed bullying online, even though just one admitted being the victim of bullying.
That’s a remarkably low number when compared to statistics from NoBullying.com that claim one in two kids have been bullied online.
It is widely considered among the biggest problems with social media.
“You wouldn’t have to see their reaction or their face,” Brooke explains, “or how much it hurts them. You just type words.”
Reid adds,” This year I’ve seen more fights than I’ve seen at school in all 13 years of education, and it all sparks from social media.”
So many times it starts with the superficial.
“They’re like ‘oh wow, you only have 700 Instagram followers'”, Alec tells us, ‘‘that’s embarrassing.”
Everything is counted from likes to retweets, and there’s a level of validation that comes with that instant approval.
“In my head I have a certain number of people I want to like this photo,” Brooke admits, “and if I only get a couple of likes, I’ll probably take it down.”
Dr. Molly Allen is a local psychologist who sat in on our discussion to compare the teens’ responses to what she witnesses in her daily practice.
She says Brooke is certainly not alone in the way she reacts to that feedback.
“If their self-esteem is all tied up in that,” she says, “that can be very deflating.”
Teens often suffer from a similar reaction in response to what she calls the “fear of missing out.”
“When the kids find out there’s an event that some of their associates or acquaintances are attending and they didn’t find out about it, it can be a real let down,” she claims. “(It’s) a real deflation of self-worth.”
The impact of social media goes beyond the teens that use it most.
It’s a lot for parents to worry about as they look for changes in relationships or self-esteem.
“When it first started, we were very concerned,” says Lance Johanson.
He and Brooke’s mother, Dawn, do monitor her social media accounts.
And even though they’ve asked questions, nothing’s raised a red flag, so far.
“You can still monitor and stop it if it’s going the wrong direction,” Dawn tells us, “and guide them back to where it needs to be.”
Or can you?
One of our panelists, Yash, candidly admitted trying to keep his distance.
“My dad sent me a friend request on Facebook,” he said with a grin, “and this might sound cruel, but I denied him.”
Like most teens, Yash is looking for more independence, a delicate balance that existed long before social media.
His parents have tried to respect his space while keeping the lines of communication open.
His mom Vinaya Kamath tells us, “You have to instill the right values and teach them how to tell right from wrong from when they’re way younger.”
But that is only part of the solution for parents.
The conversation must continue into their teen years, and when problems arise, it’s important to emphasize the habits of safe and responsible posting.
“We try to work with them on, instead of being so impulsive with what you post,” Dr Allen says, “take a beat and think about what you’re going to put out there.”
This group seems to have a handle on Dr. Allen’s message.
“If someone is mean on social media to someone else, it’s not because of social media,” Yash reminds us.
Jorge adds, “I had the fear struck into me at an early age: you don’t do things that you don’t want to be seen, or you don’t say things that will reflect negatively on you as a person.”
They also acknowledge that those things don’t go away. In the online world, problematic posts can impact college applications and future jobs.
And that brings us to the misconceptions: the things they say adults just don’t understand.
“I feel like it’s not taking over our lives,” Brooke says, “It’s just part of our generation; it’s how we live. You guys talk to each other, this is how we communicate.”
“A lot of times we don’t have time to sit down for a couple hours and watch the news or sit down every morning and read the newspaper,” Yash adds. “Twitter is an easy way to get the news.”
The positives, they say, still outweigh the negatives.
There will always be teen drama and a struggle for acceptance, with or without social media.
Dr. Allen says the key, like most things in life, is balance.
“I don’t think it’s worsening it; it’s just a different platform for it.”