This blog is written with our teenagers in mind; those teens immersed in social media, those who would probably regard social media as being one of the most important things in their lives. Parents are often aware of their teen's dependence on social media because I hear all the time, how the only way they think they can give consequence to unwanted behaviours, is by taking their teen's internet access away - and this is having implications.
Here are the problems:
The first one is, that for teens that are already fully immersed in their social media profiles, then their presence on-line forms part of their identity and how they make contact and stay informed with what's happening - having this taken away from them actually increases anxiety as they are no longer able to be involved in 'group chat', they may feel as though their status within a circle of friend is reduced by not having a presence and they worry about what they are missing. I know we could argue that this isn't important but if you consider the mind and body of a teenager, that is full of hormones, unfamiliar thoughts and feelings; that developmentally is trying to achieve full emotional separation from their family, to develop their independence and to integrate sexuality into their identity, then all this stuff really is important - to them.
Another problem, is over dependence on social media and on-line presence; as though addicted. Because of this, teens are missing out on real life, intimate contact and valuable life lessons. They may learn that their messages and pictures can be screened shot and so to be careful and that not everyone is who they say they are on-line, but what about the bread and butter of what makes us tick as people - actual, physical contact?
How do we learn to maneuver around someone's grief if we only see it on-line, how do we get to process a relationship breakup if the level of content we share about it and how we get our needs met with it - are done so on a public forum for everyone to see and speak about? How can we ever feel fully satisfied with what we have if all we see is a virtual reality truth of how much better others' lives are? When our teens become adults, a study published in the journal, Child Development, showed that teens who have less intimate friendships have increased levels of social anxiety in adulthood.
From my personal and professional experience, saying something in front of a person has a hugely different, more cathartic experience than saying it to someone on-line or even over the phone - saying it to someone in person means it's real and because of their reaction and their input, we process it in a different way.
To survive as babies we need relationship and contact, if not only for our brains to complete healthy development (as if that's not enough) but also to survive and have a healthy mental health; our teen's reliance on social media for contact is as though they are weening themselves off what's good, what recharges us and gives us a fulfilled sense of belonging and because of this (as well as other factors) anxiety in our teens and adults thereafter, is on the increase.