It seems like the Internet just came out of nowhere and changed absolutely everything, including childhood. Whether this change is for the better or worse depends on how you look at it.
Teens today are the first generation that cannot imagine life without the Internet and the various devices that connect us to it. Our electronic gadgets, including video game systems have become extensions of our ourselves, like crutches. On the other hand, some might also say that these powerful tools give us wings. Some people believe that the Internet and its various social networking options affect us negatively while others beg to differ. Parents who cling to their pre-Internet way of life are scrambling to make sure they have the right answers to guide their kids.
There are some positive aspects to social media. It’s important to remember that teens are hardwired for socialization, and social media makes socializing immediate and easy. Teens who struggle with social skills, social anxiety, or who don’t have easy access to face-to-face socializing with other teens might benefit from connecting with other teens through social media.
Teens can find support and friendship through use of social media and gaming. When teens connect with small groups of supportive teens via social media, those connections can be the springboard to start a friendship and make the difference between living in isolation and finding support.
If you read enough of the current research. you’ll find that the negatives tend to feel bigger than the positives. While teens can use social media to connect and create friendships with others, they also confront cyberbullying, trolls, toxic comparisons, sleep deprivation, and less frequent face-to-face interactions, just to name a few.
Too much time spent scrolling through social media can result in symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Here’s how social media can be destructive:
Researchers have found that social media and gaming use can make profound changes to the brain in similar ways that drug addiction can. A team of psychologists have found that receiving likes on the internet releases dopamine in the brain. This creates a sense of pleasure. Similar triggers for this experience include eating chocolate or winning money.
Recent studies have also shown a correlation between heavy screen-mediated communication and depression. A strong theory out there is that individuals often compare themselves to others they see on social media. Teens typically put on their best face on social media and don't often share their struggles. Others will only see them in a perfect, idealistic view. This form of Internet narcissism may make others feel inadequate about their own lives or body image. Even people sharing a perfect version of themselves can develop depression as they feel they can never live up to their online persona.
It must be said that the Internet may have the potential to fight depression. For shy people and introverts, the Internet can be a safe and controllable place to speak one's mind and develop high self-esteem. Those who feel marginalized can find a community of similar individuals and gain a sense of camaraderie. There can certainly be emotional support when a teen may not have such support in their own real lives.
There’s a happy medium in here somewhere. The key to helping teens learn to balance social media with real life friendships is to keep the lines of communication open and keep talking. Honest communication shows your teen that you are there to support, not to judge or lecture. It’s also important to walk the walk. Disconnect on weekends and show your teen that there is a whole world out there that doesn’t require a handheld screen. At Cameron Pediatrics we are well versed in helping teens deal with the challenges they face with Social Media. We can help you and your teen set a plan on how to incorporate Social Media in a safe and healthy way.
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