Who to Blame for Adolescent’s Social Media Use
Social media is its own type of world. Adolescents can connect to their friends by sharing pictures or witty remarks with one another through Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. However, with this power comes responsibility. These young adults have a tendency to share false information online to try to conform to others around them. This is more prevalent when these teens come from a childhood of abuse from their parents. The internet may seem like an escape to them, but it is not their responsibility to bring them back to the real world and face their hardships and struggles. Parents need to step in to control what happens to their children online so they don’t use the internet in wrong ways, and to ensure their teens don’t suffer depression from the pressure to conform to others. Kids need a role model to look up, but if their parents are unable to be there for them in times of need, their development may be negatively altered.
Teens tend to be private from their parents and not disclose everything that happens in their lives. The internet is a big factor in their life, and it can help their when they are growing up. It is part of who they are and how they communicate with others. Since they are the ones engaging in social media, they should be the ones to deal with the risks of it, argues Pamela Wisniewski of the University of Central Florida. These adolescents are naïve to what they put out on the internet and are still learning how to protect themselves. Wisniewski argues that risk taking is something that teens should engage in to understand the consequences of the risks they take online, such as strangers trying to communicate with them or spreading false information about themselves. Making mistakes is a part of growing up, and teens need to learn from their own mistakes to understand the value of privacy. Wisniewski states the adolescent resilience theory shows that teens can still live their lives and be successful despite the hardships they come across online. More importantly, Wisniewski thinks that “Teens are often able to cope and resolve negative online experiences without intervention from their parents”. If they don’t involve their parents, Wisniewski states these adolescents can learn to set boundary’s, feel empathy towards others, and resolve arguments.
The few adolescents who experienced childhood maltreatment such as emotional abuse, as well as physical and emotional neglect, have don’t have the option to get their parents involved in their internet endeavors even if they wanted to. Problematic internet abuse is very common among adolescents who have experienced this type of abuse. A study done with 1,029 students in North West England showed that out of 327 people who experienced some type of childhood maltreatment, 84% of them developed an insecure attachment that prevented them from forming new relationships because of negative trust issues towards other people. The attachment theory is when abusive relationships with parents negatively impact future relationships, according to Joanne Worsley. Whether it is anxious attachment where kids have negative self-esteem that results in the inability to create new relationships, or avoidant attachment where kids distrust others and are unable to form close relationships, the common result is problematic internet use. Social media acts as a safe haven for these kids to escape their real-life hardships and find belonging, as their parents don’t provide that comfort already, therefore the presence of a role model is not available to them. Without a trusted adult, internet behaviors can get worse.
When these kids use social media to feel a sense of comfort, they may spread false information about themselves so they can gain more friends and people to rely on. However, Lauren Shaprio suggests that “adolescents have the option of choosing what self-identifying information to provide,” and that social media may influence development in a negative way if adolescents share false information. Friendships are reflected on social media sites, and in a college sample, 49% of friends were students talked to in person and online. This means that half of their friends on these social networking sites were people that didn’t talk to as much or not at all. It is much easier to talk to people online as when someone is behind a computer screen, it is easier to be post and say anything one wants. This lead to negative consequences as seen with the hyper personal model for communication, which Worlsey shows “that adolescents engage in selective self-presentations online,” and that other user’s impressions and reactions of them influences their real-life behavior. This means that these adolescents may alter their identity to conform to others and not present their true personalities online, therefore creating a false persona and selecting the parts of themselves they want to share with others. This can impact their development and sense of self in their future.
Children need a positive parent-child attachment so that they can become more responsible with their online endeavors. Patrick Chin-Hooi Soh has found that “Weak parental-attachment was reported to be a risk factor for children’s risky online activities and internet addiction”. If kids have a strong relationship with their parents, then kids will participate in less “risky online activities”. Parents should then play an active role in their kid’s live to make sure their kids are safe on the internet. A study of 733 adolescents from ages 10 to 18 found that the more kids communicate with their parents, the less dangerous online activities occur. Without parent involvement, kids can prevent positive growth development if they just try to learn from their own mistakes.
As social media is becoming more prevalent in adolescents’ lives, it is important to also consider the role parents play in their children’s internet use. Although Wisniewski proposes a “teen centric” approach to online protection, it won’t be as good as if parents were to be involved with their children’s online behavior. Although kids use social media every day, parents need to realize they need to step in and be involved in their children’s online activities. Just because teens can pick and choose their friends and self-monitor themselves, doesn’t mean they should. Parents need to communicate with their kids so their attachment with them will become more trustworthy. However, this isn’t possible with kids who were raised by abusive parents. Even though there is a small number of kids being raised in these adverse conditions, doesn’t mean their development doesn’t count less than others. It is important for all kids to be safe online, and it starts with parents monitoring their children’s use. It is time to start taking responsibility for our children’s actions.