The wide spread of communications devices, as well as the development of social platforms that make instant connections and media uploads possible can turn sour when used without the knowledge of the impact that they can have, especially on the long run. And the most vulnerable are the young, teens and teenagers. On one hand all the different social platforms, in terms of the mechanics of use have the “hip” and “fresh” factor, that immediately appeal to the young. They speak the teenager’s lingo, and are easy to use, apparently friendly, but can easily get out of control when the user is not seeing the impact that these platforms have on their lives and development.
In the US, according to the Department of Labor, about 70 percent of teens use social networking. The sites are not regulated in terms of safety and especially sexual interactions, and parents generally won’t or can’t get involved, to supervise how the platforms are used.
This is so on one hand because the family computer has been replaced by portable gadgets, smart phones, tablets, portable computers that can’t easily be supervised, and thus, interactions can’t be regulated.
A few years ago the number one social networking site MySpace was the main social media outlet preferred by youngsters, and sexual solicitations, according to the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications was rampant; there was no way to verify if the information posted by users was genuine or not, and so anyone could pose as a teen and befriend a minor.
With social media platforms such as Facebook, this has become less of a threat, though it is not neutralized totally. With Facebook, it is easier to find out more information about a user, find information about the user history, his friends and get a better idea of whether he or she is a genuine user or not; still abusing the platform is possible. And, again, teens that are not careful can be tricked into befriending users that might not be honest about whom they are and what their reasons are.
School Performance, Behavior Changes and Socialization
While externally a teenager that uses a social media platform might seem to be very connected and to have a great social life, the truth is that internet socialization is kind of a skin deep relationship building tool. Teenagers can thus easily fall in the trap of distancing themselves from people, and when most of their interactions are mediated by an online platform, behavioral changes are going to occur.
Also, given the instant gratification that these platforms offer, the black and white nature of the relationships that are founded on a social media website the teenagers become less capable of reading social cues, have shorter attention spans and become less able to concentrate.
One study posted o Psych Central (a web platform dedicated to psychological studies) has found that a teenager that checks his Facebook account on a mobile phone every 15 minutes on average is likely to get lower grades, and generally have lower information retention and are less able to concentrate.
The same study showed that empathy levels, and even being able to read basic emotions on the face of a person are diminished when the teenager conducts his social life online. Behavioral changes such as antisocial behaviors, states of depression, mania, anxiety and aggressively are more likely to form, as social engagement is mediated by the online platform.
So, what teenagers get wrong about the social media landscape is the fact that it affects them, in a formative and normative period of their lives, changing their personalities for the worst.
Also, bullying and cyber bullying, fraud and other potential harmful experiences are always lurking in the background of these online spaces, and nobody is safe from the danger. Yes, on the surface it might not seem that the teenager is doing anything that will affect him or her too much. Taking a selfie, using one’s GSM terminal to get an update on Facebook or any other social media website might not even seem so bad from the perspective of the parents, and so, on the long run, the probability that the teenager will lose his soulis quite high.