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Social media use and teenagers

Date Posted:  Monday, February 3, 2020

What social media platforms are EB students on? Are they *all* on social media? Why are they there, and what can parents do to educate themselves about their child’s presence on social media? EB Middle School counselor Douglas Gostlin answers the questions he most commonly receives from parents. This article is part of a series of Q&A on issues teenagers face when they grow up. Read our previous article on cell phone use and teenagers.

Douglas Gostlin, Middle School counselor.

On which social media platforms are EB students present?

TikTok, SnapChat and Instagram are the popular social media platforms for our students these days. Though the legal age to use them is 13 years old (end of 7th grade/beginning of 8th grade), we find that students under age 13 can still create accounts using a different birthday as the sites don't require proof of birthdate to register. Often parents are aware that their child is active on social media, but not always. 

Data from an informal survey I conducted in the Fall of 2019 indicated that about 25% of our 6th graders, 45% of our 7th graders, and 68% of our 8th graders were active on at least one of those social media platforms. 

What do students do on social media?

Students are very aware of the positives and negatives of their social media use. They like to share photos, videos and experiences with their friends and relatives, as they say it allows them to stay connected, be entertained, and stay informed (read more about the positive aspects of social media use). But they also recognize that social media is addictive, time-consuming, that they may be exposing themselves too much, that there is a pressure to be perfect, and that it opens them up to being cyber-bullied.  

Are teenagers able to handle social media?

One of the worrisome things that I’ve seen, for instance, are those “dares” videos that you find on TikTok, YouTube, or Snapchat where people engage in risky behavior and encourage others to follow suit.

Teenagers are impulsive and they can have a hard time resisting peer pressure. This is due to the fact that the executive function in their brains is not fully developed yet. For that reason, I recommend parents wait as long as possible to allow their child on social media. Common Sense Media, an organization that promotes digital literacy and healthy media use in children, recommends​​waiting until a child turns 16 to use some social media apps due to risks associated with privacy and exposure to mature content.

How should parents approach their child’s being active on social media?

If your child wants or is already active on social media, I recommend first looking at the privacy settings. The content that teenagers post on social media is very innocent for the most part, but we do not want them to be exposed to ill-intentioned people. By changing the default privacy settings from public to private, they protect themselves.

Another thing I would recommend is to stay engaged with your child about their use of social media. What are they doing on it? Are they mostly consuming content? Are they posting, and if so, what kind of content? Have discussions around whether they are using social media likes and views for validation and why. Additionally, talking about the “perfect” images coming out of social media might not be a reflection of reality. You may even want to have some kind of agreement, just like with cell phone use, where you agree on how long and when your child can be on those apps.

Also be attuned to how much time your child is spending on social media. This can especially be a problem while doing homework. Students have even shared with me how this can be a distraction. A student may start off by texting a friend with a question on an assignment and then spend the next hour chatting on a whole other topic. Or they take a mental break to watch a short video sent to them  by a friend through social media and then get consumed by an endless thread of related videos. A parent may need to step in and direct and guide their child, or completely have them disconnect during homework time.

Is there a digital literacy curriculum at EB?

We start teaching about digital literacy in 4th grade and follow the Common Sense Media curriculum. Students learn about topics such as their digital footprint, what happens to their brains when they use screens, online harassment, or how to search for information. This continues in Middle School as part of the Advisory program.

At the end of the day, what matters is that our children learn to regulate and manage their emotions. How can they build resilience when the adrenaline goes up and they become impulsive online? We want our social and emotional learning curriculum that starts in Preschool to help children become resilient teenagers, both IRL* and online!

*in real life.

Here are some more resources to help parents navigate their teens’ online behavior and screen time: