Impact of Social Media on Children
Social media has emerged as a dynamic and transformative force, fundamentally altering the ways in which younger individuals communicate, express themselves, and consume content. This digital realm has evolved into a vibrant cultural ecosystem, propelling technological innovation and reshaping the landscape of businesses and social interactions alike. At its core, social media represents a potent tool for connectivity, enabling unprecedented levels of global communication and collaboration.
However, amidst its myriad benefits, social media also harbors inherent complexities and challenges. One of the most pressing concerns revolves around its influence on the impressionable minds of young users. In this article, we shall take a look at all the effects of social media on children.
Positive Effects of Social Media on Children
While social media is mostly talked about in a negative light, there are some strong positive arguments in favour of it. Here are the advantages of social media for kids (1):
1. Digital Competence and Social Integration
Spending time online is important for the younger generation to pick up the necessary technical skills they will need to navigate their way through the future. It allows them to be competent citizens in a digital age, where they can fully participate in the broader society and learn the social skills of that generation. They will also learn to adapt to having an elaborate online network of friends and acquaintances.
2. Creative Expression and Collaborative Learning
Social media is being used by the youth in positive ways that weren’t thought of before. It is not just a medium for socialising, but kids and adolescents have found a new way to express themselves creatively, and interact and learn with a broader audience. Students are using it to form study groups, where they can easily and instantaneously share ideas and learning material.
3. Peer-Based Learning Dynamics
Social networking has also changed the way kids learn. It has introduced a more peer-based learning method, where students are motivated to learn from their peers. They are always interacting and giving feedback to one another, which refines their learning process. They are also more enthusiastic to learn from each other than from adults. Learning can now come from newer sources and not just their parents or teachers.
Also Read: Impact of Television (TV) on Children
4. Social Connectivity Beyond Communication
Not only is social media a tool to communicate, but it is also an important part of the lives of adolescents and young adults. It gives them an avenue to stay connected with their peers from sports teams, activity clubs, and classes, while also allowing them to network with others having similar interests.
5. Enhancing Empathy and Relationships
This is one of the most underrated social media effects on children. It has been observed that social media makes people more empathetic, considerate, and relationship-oriented. They express how they feel, by commenting or liking pictures, videos or status updates posted by their friends. They also wish more people than ever, on their birthdays.
6. Sustaining Long-Term Relationships
Kids maintain long-term friendships with others by staying in touch with them online, even when they can no longer meet each other in person.
7. Virtual Empathy and Emotional Support
It has been observed that virtual empathy shown by youngsters is received positively by their distressed friends on social media. Social media improves their moods and helps them find solutions to problems. Virtual empathy can also spill over to the real world, and teach youngsters how to be more compassionate.
8. Interest-Based Networking Opportunities
Social media offers a platform for youngsters to connect with others who share similar interests. It can be anything relating to hobbies or professions involving music, art, games, and blogs.
9. Community Engagement and Activism
Kids also get to have an influence on their community through social networking groups and help bring about positive changes. Some of the examples are fundraising campaigns and participating in political events and debates.
10. Cultural Exchange and Global Awareness
Social media allows youngsters to network with people from around the globe, exposing them to cultures and ideas that they may not otherwise come across. It helps them acquire a broader perspective on life and people in general.
11. Empowerment and Social Confidence
Social media gives introverted kids the chance to open up over the internet, giving them a boost of confidence. Many youngsters find it easier to talk to people in person, after interacting with them over social media platforms. It also helps them interact with people around the world, understanding other cultures, food, music, and more.
12. Information Access and Current Events
Many youngsters like to stay on top of current events, and with several news accounts to follow on social media, it has become a powerful tool in feeding concise and relevant news to kids. This helps them expand their general knowledge, keeping them in touch with the latest happenings around the world.
Negative Effect of Social Media on Kids
A popular opinion of the impact of social media on children is that it does more harm than good. So, how does social media affect kids? Here are some negative impacts of social media on children:
1. Social Media Addiction
The most well-known downside of social media is the addiction it creates. Constantly checking the news feed of the different social media sites becomes an addictive habit. Experts think that some features such as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ activate the reward centre in the brain. This reward circuitry is highly sensitive during adolescence and may partly explain why teenagers are more into social media than adults. These features further influence our moods. Being social creatures, we value interaction and connection, both of which determine how we think of ourselves. This drives a lot of our behaviour on a day-to-day basis, which is centred around social media.
2. Productivity Drain and Academic Consequences
Youngsters addicted to social media end up spending hours, each day, watching videos, photos, and other content posted in the accounts they follow. This addiction disrupts other activities, such as school work, sports, study, and other productive routines. They end up wasting a substantial amount of time, every day, resulting in poor grades in school. Some heavy users of social media admit to checking their feeds as many as 100 times a day, and sometimes, during school hours too. Some of the kids also realise that they are wasting a lot of time on social media, which affects their mood negatively. It also builds in them a defeatist attitude.
3. Detrimental Effects on Mental Health
Psychologists have long observed the bad effects of social media on the mental health of children. One finding suggests that children spending more than three hours a day on social media are twice as likely to suffer from poor mental health. Their immersion in a virtual world delays their emotional and social development. The effects on teens are much stronger. One report by the IZA Institute of Labour Economics suggests that spending only an hour a day on social media can make a teen miserable. It could be due to the influence of social comparisons, cyberbullying, and decreased person-to-person interactions.
4. Facebook and the Decline in Well-being
Using Facebook is also known to lead to a decline in the subjective well-being of youngsters. The more they use Facebook, the more they feel dissatisfied with their lives, in general. Teens are also observed to be suffering from “Facebook depression” after spending too much time on it or other social networking sites. Some also become anxious and moody, as they see that the lives of their friends are better than theirs, even though they may know that their representation is idealised. However, vulnerable teens are more prone to this than their confident counterparts.
5. Erosion of Real-Life Relationships and Social Skills
Screen relationships also detract from real-life relationships and social skills in children and teenagers. This happens because they grow up without learning how to read non-verbal cues and facial gestures of people. Social interaction is critical to developing the skills needed to understand other people’s moods and emotions. Hence, children growing up interacting mostly with social media may turn out non-empathetic and also become poor at communicating verbally and non-verbally.
6. FOMO and Social Pressure
While some teenagers get affected by the pressure of having to react to posts of their friends or respond to messages, others fear not being in the social loop, which is called FOMO (fear of missing out). Teens obsessively check their media feeds for updates by friends, as they don’t want to miss out on jokes, activities, parties and gossip. FOMO is also known to lead to depression and anxiety, while being a major contributor to teenagers’ heavy use of social media.
7. Narcissism and Self-Obsession
Obsession with the self and posting endless updates and selfies on social media is increases narcissism in youngsters. Their moods depend heavily on how appreciated their photos are on social media and they go into anxiety when they don’t get the attention they expect. Having their own pages makes kids more self-centred. Some vulnerable children would then live under the notion that everything revolves around them. This is a precursor to dysfunctional emotional conditions, later in their life, and a lack of empathy for others.
8. Risky Behavior and Dangerous Trends
Selfies turned into the most popular thing with the advent of camera phones. Taking selfies every hour and posting it on social media is strongly linked to narcissism, and can trigger obsessions with one’s looks. Some selfie addicts have been known to do dangerous things, such as scale skyscrapers, pose with wild animals or weapons, or stand close to moving vehicles, such as trains to get a “cool” selfie, which has ended fatally. Risky behaviour is also observed in teens, as they participate in mass social media challenges that involve engaging in absurd or dangerous activities while filming themselves.
9. Cognitive Effects of Social Media
Facebook and other social media platforms have had a negative effect on the brains of youngsters. It sets their brains in a state similar to a child who gets attracted to bright colours and buzzing noises while having a short attention span. It is no surprise this happens, as it barely takes any concentration or thought process to browse social networking sites.
10. Shallow Engagement and Missed Experiences
It is often the case with social media effects on child development that having grown on superficial stimuli, children lack the ability to engage deeply with others and themselves. They end up living for perfect Instagram photos while missing out on the actual experience of the event, which may be a vacation or having lunch with friends or family.
11. Cybersecurity Risks and Online Predation
Other dangers of social networking sites for children include cybercrime and cyberbullying. Bullying is easier on social media platforms, in the form of threatening messages or subtle posts with offensive content directed at a particular person. Younger children can also become targets of stalking by predatory individuals who intend to cause harm.
12. Exposure to Harmful Content
Offensive, explicit and violent content is easily accessible on the internet, which impacts young minds. This content can shape their minds in the wrong manner, or cause them to become mentally disturbed, later affecting other avenues of their lives, from education to personal relationships, and more.
How Can Parents Help Kids Be Smart About Social Media?
Parents always want the best for their children, while also protecting them from the worst. Parents try and enable children to handle bad situations, while also advising them to stay away from them in the first place. So here is how parents can be smart about their kids using social media:
- Begin with researching the impact of social networking sites on children and educating them about the pros and cons of it. Initially, set boundaries on what sites they can be on and for how long.
- Encourage your children to engage in more real-life communication with people, rather than online networking. They need to be taught the importance of spending more time in real-life friendships and activities.
- Instead of constantly lecturing them about the bad influence of social media on children, encourage other interests or passions they may have. It could be hobbies, sports, social work or anything that is not virtual.
- Suggest them to use social media platforms constructively to enhance their learning, or to collaborate with others who have similar interests. Teach them how to differentiate between what has substance and what is not worth spending time on.
- Supervise their online activity, so you can teach them to protect themselves from online predators and bullies. Give them enough freedom, but ensure they know you are aware of their online habits.
- Join their social networking site so you can be better aware of how it works. If possible, follow them on the site so you can see their posts. However, refrain from commenting or interacting with their posts.
- If your child is often upset after looking at their phones or their time online, talk to them about it. They may need guidance on how not to take things that happen online, to their heart.
- Ensure they spend only as enough time on it as it is useful. You may even allow social media time as a reward for good behaviour.
- Let them understand that having 500 friends on Facebook doesn’t mean they are cool, social, or popular.
- Emphasise the difference between social networking and real life.
What Is the Correct Age for Children to Be on Social Media?
The correct age for children to be on social media is typically around 13, in line with most platform age requirements. However, parental guidance, maturity level, and awareness of online safety are crucial factors. Parents should educate children on responsible usage and monitor their online activities closely to ensure their safety and well-being.
1. What safety options can parents set for their kids on social media platforms?
Parents have several safety options to safeguard their children on social media platforms. They can set privacy settings to control who can view their child’s profile and content, ensuring that only trusted individuals have access. Enabling parental controls allows parents to monitor or limit their child’s online activity, such as setting time limits or restricting certain features. Moreover, educating children about online safety is crucial, teaching them about the risks of sharing personal information and interacting with strangers. Establishing open communication encourages children to report any concerning interactions or content they encounter online, fostering a safer digital environment.
2. How has the use of social media among children changed over the years?
Over the years, the landscape of children’s social media use has undergone significant changes. With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, children now have unprecedented access to social media platforms from a younger age. This increased accessibility has led to a shift in how children engage with social media, with mobile devices becoming their primary means of connection. Additionally, the rise of visual content, such as photos and videos, has transformed the way children communicate and interact online, favoring more visually-oriented platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
3. What are social media recommended settings for children’s safety?
To ensure children’s safety on social media, parents should implement several recommended settings and practices. Firstly, enabling strict privacy settings is essential to control who can view their child’s profile and content, limiting exposure to strangers. Utilizing two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security, preventing unauthorized access to their accounts. Content filters can block inappropriate or harmful content, shielding children from potentially harmful material. Regular monitoring of their child’s online activity allows parents to stay informed about their interactions and intervene if necessary. Finally, educating children about online safety practices empowers them to make responsible choices and navigate social media safely.
So, should children be allowed to use social media? As with just about all things, social media should be used moderately to stay in touch with the times and trends. Trouble begins only with excessive indulgence.
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4. Teens, Social Media and Technology 2018; Pew Research Center; https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
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