What Your Teen Can Teach You About Social Media

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If there’s one debate that refuses to die in my house, it’s the one on social media—is it a good or a bad thing?

Like most parents, I’m concerned that teens spend too much time on social media. It’s too distracting. Every time my teens are home, they seem to have their faces glued on their screens: swiping, typing, liking and commenting on their favorite social media sites. They seem oblivious to the world around them and I often find myself berating them for not being present in the moment. Additionally, I’m guilty of bemoaning the fact that most of their interactions happen via social media and not face to face with their friends.

Other than its addictive nature, I also fret about my teens’ safety on social media sites. I find myself worrying about them being approached by online predators or becoming victims of cyberbullying. I mean, who really knows who is behind those screens and what their intentions are?

Plus, it’s hard to ignore all those studies telling us how bad social media is for our mental health. Sure, we know that what is on social media is heavily curated but that doesn’t stop us from making unhealthy comparisons with the perfectly filtered lives we’re bombarded with. If we adults constantly fall into that trap, how much more vulnerable are our teens, considering how impressionable they are?

Different Sides of the Same Coin

Being a concerned parent, I brought up the issue with my teens and their response surprised me. They not only opened my eyes to the upside of social media but also gave me insight into just how differently adults and teens view it.

As you can tell from my concerns above, we adults mostly view social media with suspicion, especially where our teens are concerned.

However, teens see social media as an outlet of self-expression and it allows them to experiment and explore various ways of expressing themselves.

My teen son, for example, tells me that if it wasn’t for social media, he’d never have discovered his love for drawing. He shares his art with his friends and this gives him a sense of identity. He feels seen and he gets a sense of belonging by connecting with others who share his love for drawing and animation.

My teen daughter, on the other hand, is a selfie queen. What I see as narcissistic behavior is her own form of self-expression. As Taylor Fang, winner of the MIT youth essay contest on “What Adults are Missing about Technology” says, selfies aren’t just pictures, they are self-portraits that represent teens’ ideas of self. They’re important and meaningful modes of self-representation.

My teens also pointed out that using social media and communicating with people from different countries and backgrounds raises their awareness of the world around them. It helps them understand how the world works and gives them a chance to carve their niche.

So while we adults are busy highlighting the negatives of social media, our teens are using those platforms to discover and nurture their passions, build their identities and search for their creative selves. They have created communities based on common interests and have found countless ways of expressing themselves.

Finding the Middle Ground

Ever since my teens’ revelations on social media, I challenged myself to look at things differently and I encouraged them to use social media platforms more meaningfully. Instead of passively consuming what they come across on different sites, I challenged them to become active participants by initiating deep conversations online.

Nowadays they create their own content as well as share and invite discussions on social media. This makes their social media time more useful, engaging and productive.

As parents, maybe we can learn from our teenagers and acknowledge that there is so much more to social media than the negatives. Used productively, social media can be a powerful tool for connection, self-discovery, and self-expression

Tyler Jacobson is a happy husband, father of three, writer and outreach specialist with experience with organizations that help troubled teens and parents. His areas of focus include: parenting, social media, addiction, mental illness, and issues facing teenagers today.

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