Though it might seem hard to believe, social media hasn’t been around all that long.
But for middle school- and high school-aged students, it’s been an ever-present part of their lives.
And as more research comes out about the impact of social media, especially in regard to communication skills and mental health, school administrators and health professionals alike urge parents to have discussions with their children about finding a balance between the real and virtual worlds.
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, 95 percent of more than 740 teens surveyed nationwide said they use a smartphone. Forty-five percent said they are online almost constantly, with the most-popular apps being Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube.
Part of being proactive is educating parents and teachers about popular apps and how they function, said Emily Phillips, a counselor at Cascade Jr./Sr. High School.
“I think it’s really important to know how apps operate and what they’re using, so when they come to talk to us, we know what’s going on with the app,” she said.
Licensed mental health counselor Rachel Andrews, of Hillcrest Family Services, said in her experience working with young clients, social media can be a “huge anxiety producer.”
“The fear of rejection and the fear of not being liked is a really big thing for kids,” she said. “So we need to work with them to be able to see themselves and others outside of this perfect image social media portrays them as.”
Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, discovered in 2017 that students who spend more time using smartphones are “less satisfied” with their lives than were peers who placed an emphasis on face-to-face interaction.
“We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent less than an hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online,” Twenge wrote in 2017.
Andrews added that an important and healthy part of a child’s social development is conflict resolution — something that often is lost when communicating via social media.
“Unfortunately, with social media, kids have the ability to hide more behind their screens, and they haven’t been able to go through the learning situations of learning how to deal with someone and deal with conflict,” she said. “Conflict resolution is definitely a skill that I see more and more kids having a hard time dealing with.”