Positive and Negative Effects of Social Media on Children

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If you can’t beat it, join it

Social media (SM) management skills are key to harness its positive power.

Author: Subbarayan R Pochi Ph.D. Director, Full Potential Learning Academy.

Technology is a double-edged sword.

Technology is a powerful tool, that demands deft handling. The multiple social media channels are the outcome of the 21st century’s technological revolution. The easy access to technology (read SM) has handed over the communicative power from the hands of a few to all. Time and again, we have witnessed the power of SM that is credited with ushering in hitherto unimaginable societal changes. The latest case in point is, the student led movement by the Parkland high schoolers, following the Valentine’s day massacre at their school.At a lightning speed, they mobilized students across the ideological spectrum from within and outside of the US to raise awareness against gun violence, urging them to actively participate in the government. 

In a systematic study, a group of 593 middle schoolers was polled for their SM activity. It was reported that 17% of the children, nine years or younger, had their own SM account. 40% reported the absence of adult supervision, and 40% befriended strangers on the web (Martin et. Al. 2018). The last two data call for the need of cyber-security education. The above reported numbers are distinct from the cellphone ownership among the K-12 students, which is upwards 89%. The student participants further reported using social media to connect with their friends, share pictures, and find out about their social life. They indicated that Instagram (27%), SnapChat (25%) and YouTube (25%) as the preferred social media tools

Between 2012 and 2018, the social media user base among the teenagers has more than doubled and a demographic shift is noticed among the various SM platforms. However unbelievable it might sound, 19% of the teens do not use SM and additional 19% are immune to SM influence (don’t care).

In a survey, about 73% of the teens check their SM more than once, while 43% of them constantly online. SM has reduced face to face (f2f) communication, but at the same time more than doubled SM communication. Below is a summary of a research report conducted by Common Sense.

Table 1: Demographic change in SM use profile between 2012 and 2018


Description20122018
1Social Media Users34%70%
2Smartphone/mobile devices ownership41%93%
3Snapchat usersNo data41%
4Instagram usersNo data22%
5Facebook usersNo data15%
  • SM gives anonymity:
Social media (SM) management skills is the key to harness its positive power. Full Potential Learning Academy (https://fullpotentialtutor.com/blog)

The basic premise of the famous cartoon entitled “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” by Peter Steiner remains true to the day. 

Figure 1: Originally published in The New Yorker July 5th, 1993.

Multiple peer reviewed studies on theinternet user profile corroborate that people often assume a deceptive screen persona. This anonymity or impersonal nature of communication affords greater comfort level to the user to post things which they would not post it in their real identity. The technology that unmasks anonymity, however, is not accessible to the public. 

Therefore, a simple age-old commonsense advice of “stranger danger” applies here too. As parents, educators, or responsible adults, we must constantly educate our children notto correspond with strangers.

  • SMs are less restrictive on expression and communication:

Various SM channels make online activities somewhat impersonal. The anonymity allows the user to tell, share, comment, or post things that one would hesitate to do in f2f interactions. On the brighter side, the technology that gave us the same powerful social media also enabled the development of software tools to counter cyber bullying. For instance, there are several software tools (e.g. ReThink) that intuitively checks and advices about SM activities. These programs (apps) are akin to a spell check software. They, in real time check SM posts being composed, and providethe user an opportunity to rethink before posting any potentially hurtful messages. It is akin to ‘timeout’ or taking a deep breath when confronted with tricky situations. The usershave complete control on these programs.

  • SMs are addictive, and many inbuilt features fuel this addiction.

As pointed out in a preceding paragraph, 73% of the teens check their SM accounts hourly, while 43% are constantly on their SM. This interferes in their studies and interaction with the real world. Unchecked, they become reclusive and social outcasts, labelled SM addicts and treated as an illness needing intervention. Various SM outlets further fuel this addiction. For example, they intelligently monitor one’s online activity, make several suggestions and urge the user to post something new, respond to a post or any other combination thereof. They incentivize active users with (worthless) badges, access to so called ‘premium’ contents, thus sucking the user into SM quagmire. Parents can play a leading role in protecting their children getting addicted to SM by taking a few simple steps. 

  1. Be a role model. Around children limit electronic device usage.
  2. Monitor and regulate children’s SM activities
  3. Educate in safe SM practices
  4. Strictly enforce device free time at home. However, the sad part is many parents themselves are constantly on their electronic devices. Therefore, it is prudent to set aside a device free time by providing some acceptable alternatives. At first the children will rebel, but once they realize the futility of rebellion, and available alternates, they will come around to appreciate the options.

Because of these unforeseen developments, a whole new industry is evolvingaround treating SM addiction.

Summary:

Multiple systematic studies, and individual observations support the incomprehensible power of the social media. The message to those who are averse to SM is, “if you can’t beat it, join it”. Therefore, it is beneficial for individuals to learn to manage this power for a greater good.

References:

Martin F, Wang C, Petty T, Wang W and Wilkins P (2018), Middle School Students’ Social Media Use. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 21(1):213-224.

https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/what-new-research-on-teens-and-social-media-means-for-teachers

Subbarayan R Pochi Ph.D.

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