Teens know the pros and cons

If we think teens are oblivious to the dangers of social media, we might be wrong.

According to a new report by Common Sense Media, teens say they’re well aware of the risks. They know that social media distracts them from having real, in-person connections, but they also believe social media strengthens other relationships.

Focusing on 13- to 17-year-olds, researchers found that teens spend significantly more time on social media than they did just four years ago.

“What goes on in the minds of teenagers when they engage with social media, seemingly lost in their screens,” asked James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “It’s a question we as parents often ponder as we fret about the effects of social media on our children’s well-being.”

The percentage of teens who engaged with social media several times a day jumped 36 percent from 2012 to 2018, and their preference for face-to-face communication has dropped significantly over the same time period.

That’s a relationship we’d expect to see. Use social media (and technology) more, and you’ll have fewer face-to-face interactions.

Many teens believe that using social media has a positive effect on how they feel about themselves. The report also reaffirmed what some tech advocates have been saying for years, that social media is an important tool for teens who want to express themselves creatively.

But it’s not all memes and smiley faces.

Social media also had an important role among teens who reported being socially and emotionally vulnerable. Still, these teens tend to rely more on tech and social media in both positive and negative ways, regardless of the risks.

One of those negative habits has to do with an over-reliance on technology. In some ways, this report stresses what most parents have known for years, but maybe lack the skills to do anything about: teens need to work on their ability to self-regulate their uses of technology.

Sure. Teens know they’re distracted from engaging people in the same room, or focus on important tasks like homework. They simply don’t ignore their devices or lack the will to put them away.

“Teens are fully aware of the power of devices to distract them from key priorities, such as homework, sleep, and time with friends and family,” Steyer added.

The good news is that while some teens may be unable or unwilling to self-regulate their use of technology, at least they’re aware of the distraction.

Maybe that’s the silver lining to this entire study.

If they know how technology interferes with their daily lives, maybe it will make our jobs as parents a whole lot easier when we have to take their devices away – not as punishment, but to save them from themselves.

You can read the full report at commonsensemedia.org.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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