A Social Media Surprise

A study that tracked 800 participants between the ages of 10- to 18-years by collecting data five times arrived at a surprising finding…a finding that may bring relief to many parents. This study suggests that teens who used social media actually spent more time with friends offline as well. That’s good news because face-to-face interactions (offline interactions) seem to be associated with positive mental health. Face-to-face interactions also provide opportunities to learn and practice positive social skills. What a surprising relief! Using social media did not reduce offline, face-to-face interactions. Instead, “higher social media engagement was linked with increased time spent with friends in person” as well.

(There was one group of teens for whom this was not true. If a teen struggled with social anxiety, using social media at a high rate puts them at risk of developing poorer social skills.)

Another study explored how digital communication impacted connectedness, positive social comparison, authentic self-presentation, civil participation, and self-control. This study suggests that teens fare better, have more positive digital communications that exhibit the above traits noted above when their parents actively engage with them around positive online communication and “know their way around technology.”

Social media and digital communication are rather new parenting challenges. It’s good to know that social media use does not reduce offline face-to-face interactions (except, perhaps, for those struggling with symptoms of social anxiety). However, that does not mean we simply let go and ignore how our children utilize social media and technology. In fact, as the second study suggests, our children learn to manage social media and technology in a healthy manner when they have an actively engaged parent who also manages their social media and technology use in a healthy manner. With all this in mind, let me offer two suggestions for all parents:

  1. Utilize technology and social media yourself but do so in a healthy manner. Don’t phub your children through “technoference.” Make sure your actions reveal that you love your children more than your phone, tablet, or computer.
  2. Remain actively involved in your children’s lives. Set healthy, age-appropriate boundaries on technology. Recognize that setting healthy boundaries will require some discussion as your children mature. Play games online and offline with them. Get to know their friends. Text, not just to check in on them or give them a directive, but also to communicate something fun in the moment. Most importantly, remain actively engaged in your children’s online and offline lives.

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