Today’s teens and young adults, sometimes called Generation Z, are the first generation to literally grow up online. The world of smartphones, tablets, and the internet are part of their earliest memories. There are both positive and negative consequences to this digital way of life. Many adults, including parents of teens, have only the vaguest idea of what kind of world their children inhabit. Let’s look at some of the issues and implications of growing up online.
A Reality Dominated by Social Media
For many of today’s teens, social media sites such as Instagram and Snapchat play a huge role in social life. Naturally, kids still socialize face-to-face. What’s new is that they now place a great deal of time and energy into constructing a social media version of themselves consisting of selfies, Facebook posts and Instagram and Snapchat Stories.
In effect, young people today are all producers of their own reality shows in which they are the stars. While this may sound glamorous, it also puts a great deal of pressure on kids. There’s fierce competition to gain followers and to construct a hip, attractive, and popular image. In some cases, social media activity degenerates into conflicts and bullying.
Pressures of Social Media
There’s now a whole new vocabulary to describe some of the social media issues that young people contend with daily. Every day, we hear about the problem of cyberbullying, a phenomenon that’s not restricted to teens. People of all ages, including celebrities, are bullied online. For teens, however, the consequences are especially hard to deal with. Cyberbullying can take many forms, including insults, sarcastic jibes, and threats. This is often just as painful as bullying someone in person. In some cases, victims have committed suicide as a result.
Another pervasive social media issue is ghosting, which refers to cutting someone off completely from all channels. It’s often used in the context of dating when one person ends the relationship and stops all communication. However, it can also refer to excluding someone from your social circle. People who aren’t heavily invested in social media may not realize just how painful this can be. In a culture where social media status is a priority, exclusion has a similar connotation to the traditional practice of banishment in ancient cultures.
The recent movie Unfriended portrays some of the extreme potential consequences of cyberbullying. Peer pressure has always played a major role in the way teens interact and this is just as true today as ever before. For example, cyberbullying or exclusion from a social circle can occur within minutes if a popular kid sends out a message to his or her friends.
Online security is another crucial issue for today’s kids and teens. Of course, adults also need to worry about hacking, malware, and identity theft. Kids and teenagers, meanwhile, face the additional threat from predators who troll social media sites and forums.
The internet provides a great deal of anonymity and people aren’t necessarily who they say they are. Adults, for example, can disguise their identities and pretend to be children. Fortunately, there’s evidence that teens and young adults are more savvy about privacy issues than their elders.
Keeping Young People Safe
Given the complexities and all-pervasive nature of cyberculture, it’s impossible to protect kids, teens, and young adults from all of the potential dangers of social media and the internet. Painful issues such as rejection, bullying, and social banishment existed long before the internet and they’ll never be eliminated entirely online. There are, however, ways to reduce the risks and protect young people as much as possible.
To protect children from cyberbullying, it’s important for parents to keep the lines of communication open as much as possible. Make sure your children know that they can talk to you about such issues. If you know that there’s a problem, advise your child to block the bully. If it’s a recurring issue, talk to school administrators or the parents of the bully. One of the easiest ways to continue to keep your children safe online is to use a trustworthy parental control on all of their devices.
While no parental control solution is a replacement for parenting, they are a crucial tool to help parents keep their children’s mobile devices safe from dangerous content such as pornography and violence. Additionally, they make it easy for parents to manage screentime! Try out Netsanity mobile parental controls on 2 devices your kids use, free for 2 weeks. Claim your free trial
Also published on Medium.