There has been much discussion in recent times about the destructive effect of social media on the development of young people, especially under 15 year olds. This ranges from the dangers of pornography, to the disappearance of the skills of non-verbal communication, and the rise of social phobia.
Parents complain of the fact that they can’t make their children switch off their “devices” because of the aggression they encounter as a result, and also complain that their children are tired all the time and won’t join in with activities both within and outside the family. Bullying has long been a problem for society but the ability to bully people through the internet has the potential to be 24/7.
Statistics from Net safe released in 2017 stated that 80% of New Zealanders own a smart phone or tablet and 88% use social media every month. Many of the uses are interwoven with the Kiwi love of sport. That same year Richie McCaw had Facebook followers that could fill the stadium at Eden Park ten times over and 8 out of 10 most googled New Zealanders were sports people.
The number of interactive sites available grow by the month almost, and apps and advice abound. No wonder parents feel overwhelmed.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media
The piece of the report that struck me was the fact that, like all of our human “inventions” there are enormous advantages and disadvantages associated with the internet just as with the motor car and nuclear power.
Advantages including increased communication, growth of ideas and creativity, not feeling alone, enhanced learning and access to health information can be outweighed by more widespread exposure to bullying and harassment, exposure to images that may not happen without the internet, risks to privacy and the pressure of both personal and corporate advertising that diminishes contentment.
But is Social Media the Problem?
The article made me reflect on how in fact all these issues have been around for much longer than the internet and maybe even electricity. Human nature and behaviour has evolved slowly and although interaction is now faster than it ever has been, maybe it is the speed of interaction that is the issue rather than the nature of it.
How to Manage Social Media with Young People
Advice to parents and professionals working with young people seems to be the same wherever it is accessed in this report, on Netsafe, or via this Stop Cyber Bullying website:
Understand the various sites yourself; if in doubt ask a young person to explain it.
Understand that they are an online extension of normal behaviour, and how the stages of brain development need to be taken into account when forming guides for use.
Discussing rules around access (and role modelling them) is probably better than using electronic controls that can be bypassed.
Teach critical thinking by talking through the implications of what they are viewing.
The second thing that struck me was the lack of research on the association between the rise of anxiety especially social anxiety and the use of social media. It stimulated me to do a very brief literature scan and I could find very little.
In conclusion my reflection ended with more questions than answers and as usual more research needs to be done on how the electronic age of communication is affecting the development of young people, especially their social development. We may find that it is doing more good than harm.