Social media – can’t live with, can’t live without! So how should a teenager navigate the ups and downs that come with having a social media account? Bookosmia podcasters Siddhant Vodela, 16 and Abhishruti Ghosh, 14 spoke to Soumya Jagatdeb, psychologist and narrative practitioner to glean some insights on ‘What social media is doing to our young’.
Academy winning actress Penelope Cruz has said that her kids aren’t allowed to be on social media until they’re 16. Instagram says a user must be at least 13 years old to get an account. Should teenagers be on social media? If yes, what’s a good age?
Being on social media before your age is not cheating, it’s just that you weren’t given the proper conversation before you got started on social media. While social media considers 13 year olds to be old enough to navigate social media, I don’t think there is a magical number to join social media as there is no guarantee that you will be ready for it.
It is more to do with the thought process and there are many intersecting variables to it like what is the emotional well-being of a person who wants to join? Would they benefit from assistance before they join social media? Do they understand content? Would they be ready to handle it if they saw a triggering content? These will help us understand if we are at the correct age to navigate and join social media. There isn’t a mental age for social media but you could say that one’s confidence or conviction is a better gauge of it. This confidence age is different for all. Even an adult on social media may not be ready to face the struggles that could come on social media like cyber bullying. Therefore, the joining age for social media is subjective but really depends on your confidence on how you can navigate it.
- What should every youngster know before joining up on a social media platform?
It is important to know what the intention of joining social media is. Suppose I want to join, what are my hopes? What do I like to do on social media? What are my boundaries when I am on social media? Till what time is it OK for me to stay here? At what point of time does social media become saturated for me? Do I understand ethics? This is something all age groups should be mindful of – respecting space and dignity not just of oneself but of others as well. Do I understand the news that is being presented to me on social media? How do I verify the news? Am I a part of an oppressing conversation? Am I falling prey to clickbait with topics like body shaming,hustling culture that could lead to a burn out? It is important to know all of these.
It is also important to be updated about the app that we join. What are its features? What does the app do with my data? What are the government regulations regarding this app? What about censorship, privacy? These need to be figured out before a youngster joins social media.
Here is our regular writer, 13 year old Aanya Surana from Kolkata talking about the impact of social media in a well thought of essay.
- This rise of social media use in young people coincides with a rise in mental health concerns. Is social media setting unrealistic standards for the teen of today? What effects of social media are you seeing among teens?
Simply put, all of us have a biological and evolutionary need to connect. During the lockdown, social media was the only way to connect and those that were not there on social media would have felt left out. While all of us have a need to communicate we have a different pace, energy to do it. There is no one size fits all when it comes to communication and unfortunately social media delivers only that.
On social media, we have time to curate responses. That’s taking away the experience of being human. When speaking live, we get some things right and some things wrong eventually leading to the end of the conversation. However, on social media there is a question of authenticity. There is so much scrutiny to give the right response so we all take time to curate a response. For example, we upload photos in a particular way however this is just a preview and it doesn’t represent who we are in life.
Here is a well rounded piece by 12 year old Kavya Mehta from Mumbai on what youngsters feel about the internet
- According to a report released in 2021 by Common Sense Media on social media’s effects on teens, about half of the 1,500 young people surveyed said social media is very important for them in order to get support and advice, feel less alone, and express themselves creatively, as well as for staying in touch friends and family while social distancing. And 43 percent said that using social media makes them feel better when they are depressed, stressed, or anxious. Among LGBTQ youth, 52 percent said social media helps them feel better when they are experiencing these difficult emotions.
Do we have a tendency to vilify social media? Is there good that also comes out of it?
There’s a lot of good that comes out of social media. It is here to stay. It has made our lives easier. Like with LGBTQ, social media has helped people connect for solidarity, helped connect with lost members, friends, it is a platform for people to display creative potential like Tik Tok.
Having said that, it’s not bad to point out critiques about social media as well. It has far-reaching consequences and therefore it is important to probe its critical points as well because it affects teenagers who are still developing their thought process. We can’t quantify good or bad on social media. What are we assigning the intention and meaning to? If our aim is to campaign to help out then it’s good. If we are using the power of social media to polarize people then that’s not a good thing. Social media provides people anonymity, it has a lack of regulation and hence is a macro level concern.
- What red flags should parents of teens on social media watch out for?
Social media has the potential to become addictive like any other substance, maybe even more. And the red flags could be if one has a 24 / 7 obsession with the next like, thoughts on what to upload all the time, if posting on social media impacts their mood, if social media is their coping mechanism, if they have no other way to deal with their emotions. In such cases we must check in on the person to find out if something is upsetting them and if they need any help. If these questions are asked with an agenda, the person may retreat back to social media as a coping mechanism hence this has to be approached carefully.
- Could you share some tips for parents listening to this chat right now?
The most important thing is to have a conversation at the beginning. Why does a youngster want to join social media? How do they see their social media journey? How can they take help in case they need it going forward?.
Some tips parents can help their children with is :
- Helping them unfollow accounts that add to their anxiety.
- Speak about what they are fearful of missing out if they unfollow profiles that are unhealthy for them.
- Switch off notifications as they control our attention.
- Reconnect them with their hobbies and encourage mingling with other people in the real world.
- Homes can have spots where they’re not allowed to use gadgets; they can have family time without gadgets.
- Parents can stay updated on the app and find out if it is safe for their child when there are updates.
These conversations can be small or large, sometimes can be difficult but it’s very important to have them especially at the start so that they’re not awkward as they go along.
7.What role does a school play in when it comes to teens and social media?
The school is an important stakeholder. Like they do with other topics, schools can hold sensitization programs on how their students can navigate social media best. Classrooms can create groups and debate the pros and cons of social media. Discussing these issues as a group will hold these students accountable when they join social media. This will also help them understand the aspects of social media that don’t help them like the illusion of perfection, toxic behavior on the Internet, eating disorders etc. A school can help them filter out unnecessary expectations and understand the ethics of being on social media.