The new digital age has brought about extraordinary developments in technology and has an indescribable power to influence, connect and mobilize the current population of Millennium Kids. Teens today, also known as the Facebook Generation or digital natives, live in a fast-paced, technologically evolving society and are connected to one another and to the world via digital technology more than any previous generation. Overall, children between the ages of two and 18 years spend an average of almost five-and-a-half hours a day at home watching television, playing video games, surfing the Web or using some other form of media.
Social media has and is changing the way teens live today. It is no longer just a part of a teen’s world; it’s their world now and is affecting who they are and what they do. A decade ago, if our kids were at home, we felt comfortable that our children were in a safe and secure place. That's no longer true. Now that kids have smartphones and tablets, they can hang out on a dangerous street corner without ever leaving their room. Social media is a kind of drug that we don’t ingest; as a result it seems far less nefarious than it really can be. By exploiting our desires for connection, acceptance, and belonging, social media can turn us into strung out, addicted rats if we don’t properly develop and nurture a healthy and resplendent sense of self that doesn’t need the glittering lures of social media to thrive.
Millennial kids are interacting all day but almost entirely through a screen. They are constantly texting, tweeting and posting pictures via Snapchat and Instagram. Some teens are so emotionally invested in social media that they even wake up at night and login. Teenagers use social media to stay connected to friends and family members, meet new friends, share common interests and promote causes they believe in. This type of media can also help teens expand their creativity and ideas by sharing artistic and musical projects and creating written content and podcasts. In healthy, inclusive environments where sufficient guidance is provided about how to live well with others, social media can amplify and reinforce positive messages and attitudes.
While today’s teens may be more digitally savvy than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues. When children make a bad choice online, it’s public and permanent. Armed with cell phones and a dizzying array of social media choices,one-half of middle- and high school students in a recent study admit to social media abuse — from bullying schoolmates to spreading rumors to pressuring others to send sexual texts or pictures.
Bullying is a worldwide epidemic that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic borders. For children who are bullied it’s a constant daily struggle for they are the victims of teasing, taunting and name calling. Bullying is no longer a harmless rite of passage and has become one the most common form of violence in our society. Cyber-bullying is commonplace online among teens and it causes emotional trauma and sometimes even leads to suicide.
While on the surface it appears social networking brings people together across the Internet, in a larger sense it may create social isolation. As people spend increasing amounts of time on social networks, they experience less face-to-face interaction. Smartphone apps now send an alert when they detect people nearby with whom we can share interests. As this phenomenon intensifies, our circle of friends will increase but those friends will come from a narrower cross-section of society. We’ll become more tribal and less exposed to people with interests or beliefs different from our own. Scientists have evaluated social isolation in many studies, and have determined that it can lead to a host of mental, psychological, emotional and physical problems including depression, anxiety, somatic complaints and many others.
Children are growing up now in a world where they expect immediate response, gratification and notification. Their brains no longer have time to evolve; they must adapt to change in an instant, and the results are distressing. Teenstoday are more comfortable doing stuff behind their screens than they are in person. Social media has made this easier for them to embrace stuff they would not otherwise embrace because they can do it safely behind a screen. It's no secret that media has had an increasingly negative impact on the way teenage girls measure their personal image and beauty standards. The sizes of supermodels and actresses often influence teenage girls -- who are actively seeking to find an identity -- to believe they have to be thin to exemplify beauty. The difficulties of growing up have never been so public.
When it comes to online safety, social media has its’ own unique set of problems for teenagers and it can go far beyond the online predator horror stories.Many users feel their personal data is safe on social networking sites because they have set high levels of security settings, research suggests this is not the case. In fact, there is so much personal data on the web that Eric Schmidt, the co-founder of Google, has warned that teenagers might be forced to change their names one day in order to escape their cyber past. Social media is just one of a gaggle of contemporary trends contributing to teen stress, it’s especially insidious because many teens look to it as a stress-reliever – but get the opposite effect.
It is imperative that we talk with our children of all ages about the pros and cons of social media and help them navigate the online social world. But it’s not just the risk of premature exposure that makes parenting in the age of social media challenging… it’s how social media changes us, reconfiguring the way we value and perceive ourselves and others. As parents today it’s a challenge walking the fine line of respecting our children’s online privacy while looking out for their well-being. We need to be the guardrails on the superhighway of online information. Keeping technology away from our children isn’t the answer, and fear-based education doesn’t work. We have to let them make mistakes and learn so that they can build confidence and competence in the real world.
In a technologically mediated world, life is bound to be complicated. There will always be a technology and culture divide between parents and children. But with a little extra effort, perhaps it doesn't always have to be so big. It’s also important to create a relationship of openness and sharing without the harsh judgment, criticism, and shaming that cuts off communication between parents and kids.They need to know that we are not clueless and are there for bouncing ideas, helping them to solve problems and yes, setting firm limits when needed.