Social media can have benefits, but also comes with risks. Understanding the risks will help you increase your own social media literacy, and help you serve as a resource for your child.
Oversharing is easy
Social media is designed to be…social. No matter the platform, there are rewards for engaging, whether it’s posting, commenting or reacting. And for teens especially, that can create challenges. Teen brains are highly motivated to engage in socially rewarding behavior.
At the same time, teens have LESS motivation to evaluate the potential negative consequences of behavior. The gas comes before the brakes. So they may share more without understanding that their posts live on forever.
They may start to see the reaction to what they post – in the form of likes and comments – as an evaluation of their value as a person. Sharing makes social comparison easier too, and that can lead to feelings of being left out or not being good enough, which can be damaging to their mental health.
Talking through a social media plan as a family can be helpful to discuss what family members are comfortable with being posted online.
Marketers love social media
It’s not just friends who are interested in social media engagement. Marketers are keenly interested in reaching, engaging with, and influencing kids online. While an ad on traditional media (like a TV commercial) is easy to spot, advertising on social media is more ”under the radar.”
It can be hard for kids and adults to figure out if advertising dollars are behind user-created content. Instagram influencers, TikTok trendsetters and YouTube stars often receive rewards to promote brands and products, but that isn’t always obvious. Kids are being sold on products or a lifestyle that may be unrealistic. This can lead to envy, isolation or sadness, which can affect their mental health. Kids can end up with negative views of themselves if they don’t have the same products or lifestyles that they’re seeing.
And it’s not just the message marketers are sending – it’s also the data that they gather about us and our kids. What we watch, the times of day, and where we are when we’re online are all gold to marketers. They can keep that data for years and sell the information to other marketers/platforms. While adults may understand this, children rarely understand how their social media usage data are being Social media platforms use that information to make their content more addictive- so that kids further increase the time they spend online.
Less variety, and often, more and more dramatic and risky content. Often, that risky content – like pranks, substance abuse, and sexual activity – is presented as having very little negative consequences. For example, a teen might see how much fun it is to drink but not see the result of getting sick afterward.
What can I do?
The good news is that you can teach your children to be smart about their social media use. They can learn to think critically about the messages that they are seeing:
- Is this person I follow sponsored? (Do they mention, “Thanks to XX company for the free product,” or “XX sent me this amazing product”? If so, they were given something specifically to talk about it.)
- Is their behavior smart? Safe?
- How does it make me feel?
- How do I feel about the amount of time I’m spending on this?
There are ways to change privacy settings on social media to decrease the risk of marketers collecting more data on your children. Learn how to talk to your child about privacy on social media.