October 2016
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: Social Media and Young People

Finding the Balance Between Benefits and Risks

Imagine a dinner table surrounded by a family of five in the 1950s, ’60s or even the ’90s. It includes every family member sharing stories, life lessons and laughter. Now imagine a dinner table in this decade. It is spread out, less interested in communicating and some, if not all members, are participating in activities through a media outlet.

Media has changed our culture in significant ways since first becoming popular in the early 1900s with the advancements in technology. One of the newest is social media. Social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter just to name a few, has made its way into the homes of people young and old. 

 

The benefits of these programs are plentiful. For example, some people use social media for motivation to get healthy with applications such as Fitbit, Jawbone or Map My Run. Another more obvious example is how it connects people to other people worldwide and to local and global affairs.

"Great things come of it," said Dr. Adrienne Duke, a family- and child-development specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. "You can see people you love in an instant, and you can contribute to the world in a way you couldn’t before."

Though beneficial, there is concern that social media can lead to negative behavior in younger children and teens. This is where most begin to wonder what age is appropriate to begin use, and how does one prevent harmful media from working its magic? Researchers believe there are things parents should be aware of and tips they should consider when their children open their own accounts.

There are ways to allow children to enjoy their social sites while also teaching them safety.

First, parents should monitor their children to ensure proper use, both for content and for time spent. Children are getting in touch with social media at a much younger age. Whether it is online gaming or social sites, most children begin to create their own accounts when they are 9 years old. This age is crucial, however, in adolescent life.

At this stage, they are learning how to balance their days and interact with others. In fact, research has shown electronic stimulation affects sleep and mood behavior for children. That being said, it is important for parents to monitor their usage.

Duke said school-aged children (fourth-graders and up) are learning about content.

"Learning can be hard, and technology distracts them," he stated.

Secondly, deleting the child’s account isn’t the solution when the content becomes invasive or negative. Instead, Duke encourages parents to talk with their children. As children become teenagers, they start to struggle with more complex social interactions such as bullies, cliques and stereotypes.

Teenagers are vulnerable at this period of their lives. Some teens can seek out these insecurities and take advantage of them, and this is where most fall victim to self-image and confidence issues that can sometimes last for years.

Bullying has been around for a long time. It is very common to see teenagers target classmates to gain popularity. Unfortunately for this generation, the thing to remember is that children who are being bullied on social media are indeed being bullied outside of the internet’s medium.

Girls tend to encounter problems at this age on a more personal level and, in recent years, social media has broadened the concept of competition.

"For girls it is more pronounced," Duke added. "Before it was about local popularity, and now it has become global."

Competition in this sense boils down to who wore it better, who has most likes and followers, and whose relationship is the cutest and more perfect. These ideas can torment young people in a way that damages their ability to see themselves in a positive manner. Social media only makes this issue more visual.

"There are multiple media campaigns that are unmasking the beauty industry in ways that were not possible before," Duke stated. "There are sites (such as YouTube) that show you images before and after (Photoshop) that can help girls realize that they are normal and beautiful."

As social media expands and the availability of it grows, our society must learn to adapt. It is expected that children and teenagers will be curious, but it’s important for their mental and physical sake that there are limits and guidelines.

 

Austin Northenor is a student writer for ACES.