The Social Dangers of Social Media
In the early 2000s, social media was still in its infancy. A large portion of Millennials had yet to begin to use the future social media giant known as Facebook, as it was still predominately used for college and university students.
As the internet gained popularity over the 90s, many websites were created with the purpose of bringing people together with the purpose of discussing various topics or simply reaching out to make a new friend from a different part of the world. As we entered the new millennium, a new age of social media dawned, and millions of people slowly began to embrace the new form of instant communication.
Over the last twenty years, people have willfully abandoned their online privacy for the convenience of viewing pictures and videos from friends and family, reading news which may or may not come from credible sources, and worst of all, have been a victim of a predator, scammer, or cyberbully.
While millennials and their parents had the opportunity to live through the wild west, which was the establishment of social media platforms, teens and children have the privilege of having a plethora of options when it comes to staying connected to their peers. But all this comes with the same costs and risks that have always been. As young people idolize the people they see online in videos or social media posts, they can aspire to be just like them, all the while not realizing the dangers which come with creating a digital persona.
A Life Lived Online
According to a recent CNN article, teens spent an average of seven hours per day online, while tweens spent an average of five hours a day online. This time did not include the amount of time that was used for homework purposes.
More concerning is children between the ages if 8 and 12 averaged nearly five hours a day online, as more parents transition to giving their children tablets to watch videos online or play games, versus traditional forms of recreation such as educational toys or spending time outside.
As parents and teens become more addicted to personal technology, they continue to pass the addiction on to the next generation. No longer is it necessary to wait for a favorite television show to come on, when streaming media allow us to watch endless content at will. Games are no longer restricted to consoles as they were for younger generations of gamers. Now app developers create games for iPhones and Androids at a blinding pace.
Gone are the days of going to the library or using encyclopedias to do research. With search engines built into our phones, information is always accessible whenever we need it.
The world as we know it is now a digital world where even traditional money is becoming obsolete. Online banking, shopping, medical checkups, college, and workstations will one day allow us to spend an entire span of time without ever having to leave our homes. But while the greatest software and internet minds never cease to create a more useful and convenient way to live, those who wish to exploit the young and careless continue to work in the shadows for their own evil means. And sometimes, teens and adults are ruined by their own thoughtlessness without the need of any outside interference.
Recognizing Digital Dangers
At the core of internet safety, it is important to recognize the dangers of social media to children.
Most social media websites allow children to:
- Receive messages from strangers
- Meet strangers
- Be harassed by their peers or cyberbullies
- View content which may not be age appropriate
- Read conversation strings which are not appropriate
- Participate in conversations best left to adults
Other concerns for social media sites include:
- Lack of proper age verification mechanisms to prevent children from accessing sites or viewing inappropriate content
- Allow the posting of provocative pictures or videos
- Allow easy access to child predators and cyberbullies to children
- Creating an addiction to social media platforms as to never miss out on new content, messages from friends, or feel left out of conversations with their peers
- Access to unhealthy exclusive groups where only few people have access and know the nature of the content being shared.
And this is only a small number of potentially dangerous issues which could arise with the use of social media websites, and it barely scratches the surface of being safe on the Internet.
A Quick View of Online Culture
As mentioned previously about the amount of time teens spend online daily, it’s important to understand what exactly is going on in the digital world they live in and experience minute by minute, hour by hour.
Teens often have zero filter and have no problems sharing moments of their lives for everyone to see, regardless of future consequences. Other times, they create a fantasy image of themselves they spend countless hours perfecting and posting online simply so strangers will believe they are some type of influencer. Other issues often encountered when understanding online culture include:
- Posting Inappropriate or Illegal Images or videos
Part of the teenage culture is very much living in the moment and not thinking about the potential consequences of their actions. Suggestive pictures, video evidence of young people partaking in drugs or alcohol or committing acts of crime as a form of entertainment are all often posted online through either sources such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok.
At no time do teens ever wonder if the things they share could potentially come back to haunt them. As we become more of a digital society, colleges, universities, and future employers often turn to social media to evaluate potential candidates to their institutions or places of employment. One night of fun posted online could spell disaster for a young person with high aspirations or an already bright future ahead of them.
- The Comparison of Their Own Lives to Others
Social media often creates a warped and false sense of reality that many teens believe. They view the lives of celebrities and other social media influencers and compare it to their own, often wishing they could have the life that appears so easy to attain by other people.
Impressionable teens view the images posted by their own peers, engaging in social activities, portraying themselves as living the same lives as more affluent people, using camera tricks and filters to enhance their looks for the sake of “likes” or “upvotes.”
All the while, other teens believe they are inferior to those constantly posting online. They believe other people they know are living far more superior lives when it often just isn’t the case and is more the result of clever camera tricks and filters to produce a glamorous result. But the damage is already done and exposure to this type of media can be psychologically damaging to someone who already believes they are an outcast or will never have what other people have. This often leads to teenage depression.
- Oversexualizing Teenagers
After teens become comfortable with the idea of sex and sexuality, some often don’t have an issue presenting themselves in a sexual light to others. As mentioned previously, they may post inappropriate or suggestive images of themselves online or use their sexual nature to manipulate others in various ways.
Their peer or other teens view these images and form their own opinions, either positively, negatively, or inappropriately. Others may see the images and feel their own bodies are inadequate and believe that no one will accept them as they are unless they look like the pictures that they see every day on social media.
- Viral Videos
The famous “15 minutes of fame” has been chiseled away to a measly 15 seconds in the 21st century. Those 15 seconds are all someone needs to become a viral sensation. For teenagers, the need to feel popular, if only for a few minutes, is too much of a temptation not to try.
Video after video is uploaded through apps and social media websites, all in hopes someone will share their content, and have it shared again, until its been viewed millions of times and the poster reaches internet fame.
But the Internet is fickle by nature, and nothing popular lasts forever. And so, the need to continue to be popular grows and more content is produced, regardless of how dangerous the stunt, inappropriate or illegal the action, or regard as to whom might be offended. What matters is to be liked. In the mind of a teenager, being liked can be worth more than money.
The Best Defense in a Digital World
Parents are the first line of defense in the rapidly changing world becoming more reliant on technology and social media. While it is often easy to remain out of reach of the realm of social media, staying out of the influence of technology is far more difficult and often impossible.
Keeping kids and teens safe from the dangers from social media does not have to be as complicated an endeavor. By using a commonsense approach to technology and simply being a proactive parent, many worries you may have as a parent about what your child might be doing online can be avoided.
- Follow Website Rules – If a website says their content is not suitable children under a certain age, then children have no place on it. Even if other parents don’t see the harm in letting their child having a social media profile, your child is not their child. Stand your ground and when your child is old enough, help them to register on a site you allow them to use.
- Be a Friend or Follow Your Child’s Profile – Make a social media profile of your own and monitor what your child is posting, who their friends are, and who they’re following online. A mysterious new adult face on your child’s profile page is a red flag and should be addressed with your child immediately.
- Set Rules for Messenger and Social Media Apps – Familyeducation.com has a list of the most dangerous apps for children and why parents should closely monitor or avoid letting their children use certain apps. Many apps fail to provide adequate age verification, and many are rampant with inappropriate images and have long histories of cyberbullying.
- Be an Example – Don’t expect your child to have better online habits when you’re constantly connected. Set boundaries for yourself as well, such as a rule being no phones during dinner or no phone calls after a certain time. Being an example has the added benefit of helping you step back from your addiction to technology.
- Talk to Your Kids – Be a parent and talk to your children. Engage with them, be part of their lives, and you may end up learning more from them directly than what you see online. Talking to your children will help you better notice when something isn’t right, and something might be going on that needs to be addressed. Teach your kids they can come to you when there is something they don’t know how to deal with, but never use it as an opportunity to spy on your child.
Teach Your Children Basic Internet Common Sense – At some point, your child is going to want to share moments with their friends and it’s perfectly healthy. But before you allow them to make that leap, talk to them about making the right choices when posting pictures online. Explain that a picture on the Internet stays on the Internet forever, even if you think you’ve deleted it.
Teach them to ask themselves a few questions before they post pictures or videos online:
- Is this picture / video in any way something that might harm my reputation with my family, friends, or employer?
- Could this picture / video be insulting or disrespectful to someone else and could common friends share the picture / video with those people?
- Will this picture / video get me banned from using the website or get me arrested?
- Am I being blackmailed to post this picture / video? Will something happen if I don’t? If this is the case, tell them to come to you immediately and get a hold of the proper authorities.