The Pew Research Center has released its latest survey on teen social media use, and the numbers seem to suggest that social media use is having a negative impact on teens. When asked whether social media use is having a positive or negative impact on their lives, nearly one-quarter (24%) of teenagers age 13-17 said that it was a mostly negative impact.
Why all the negativity?
This, despite all the efforts by social media giants like Facebook to clean up their platforms to make them a safer, more stress-free way for people to connect and share ideas. According to the Pew Research numbers, of the teens that said that social media was making their lives worse, 27% cited bullying and the spreading of rumors as the primary reason why. Another 17% said that social media harmed in-person relationships. And 15% said that social media created unrealistic views about how they should be living their lives. And, in fact, this pretty much conforms to what sociologists and millennial whisperers have been telling us for the past few years.
From Facebook to Instagram and Snapchat
It’s clear social media is doing something to the psyche of teens. And one factor in that may have to do with the choice of platforms used by teens. In 2014-15, when Pew Research Center last conducted this study, Facebook was clearly the platform of choice, used by 71% of all teens. Instagram (52%) and Snapchat (41%) were still up-and-coming rivals. But now flash-forward to 2018, and it appear that Facebook is dropping out of the picture. Only 51% of teens (age 13-17) now say that they are regular users of Facebook, compared to 69% for Snapchat and 72% for Instagram. And, as everyone knows by now, both Instagram and Snapchat come with their share of social problems.
Snapchat first burst onto prominence as a way to send disappearing photos to each other. No surprise here, but that soon became a way to create an “in crowd” of people getting all the really cool (or really hot) photos, and the “outcasts” of people not getting the photos. In contrast, Facebook was more of a democratic platform, in which any updates were largely sent to hundreds (or thousands) of people. So it’s no surprise that “bullying” and “spreading rumors” are precisely two of the negative factors cited by teens. Blame Snapchat for that.
Instagram, too, comes with its share of issues. One of these is the desire by many to make Instagram the influencer platform of choice. In other words, if you’re the “queen bee” or “popular jock” at your high school, you’re likely using Instagram to consolidate your influence. And, since Instagram is such a visual platform, it means that anyone who doesn’t look like a homecoming queen or starting quarterback on the football team can have a hard time of it in high school. Imagine posting a great selfie of yourself on Instagram and not a single person liking it or commenting on it – what message are you going to get from your so-called “friends”?
So what exactly are we supposed to be doing? That’s a great question that’s asked by a lot of parents. One small step might just be limiting time on the smartphone by your teens. According to Pew, 45% of teens are “online constantly.” No wonder social media seems to be having such a negative impact! This is not rocket science – the more time teens are online, the more time they are going to be exposed to all the negative aspects of social media. So doesn’t it make sense to limit “smartphone time” the way that parents of previous generations limited “TV time”?
And if you notice that your teen’s mood seems to be changing for the worse, it might be time to do a social media intervention. At the very least, you need to be aware of who your teens are following on social media, and the type of content they are posting. High school has always been a popularity contest of sorts, but now it looks like social media is kicking this phenomenon into overdrive.