Adolescent Social Media Usage in a Different, More Positive Light
Adolescent Counseling – Matone Counseling & Testing – Social Media
At our current place in time, we are seeing the impact of social media expand at an increasingly fast rate. It first began with Myspace and Facebook in the early 2000s, connecting peers and creating a platform to post pictures and updates about current happenings in each other’s lives.
Nowadays, it seems that social media has become much more than that, with a much greater impact.
In addition to sharing life updates, social media now appears to be dedicated to expelling as much content as possible, using algorithms to specifically target its users and keep them locked in for extended periods of time. In the current digital age, it can seem at times that to know social media is to be “in the know.”
For those who grew up without social media, it might seem unnerving just how engrossed many adolescents are with these platforms that fight hard for their attention. In addition to it being a one-stop-shop for gathering colossal amounts of information, both good and bad, and everything in between, social media seems to be its own ecosystem with a language and means of communicating all of its own. As someone in their late 20’s, I like to believe I’m not that disconnected from what’s considered “in” (at least that’s what I tell myself). However, even I frequently feel out of touch with what’s considered “cool” in the social media-verse.
For parents or really anyone wanting to connect with adolescents, it sometimes feels like we’re missing a large part of their lives that are dedicated to this virtual realm. There’s this world out there that holds so much importance to them and tends to dictate much of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We want to understand it and maybe even some want to eradicate it, entirely when seeing the negative impacts it can have. This is an understandable reaction for those who just want teenagers to be a little less entrenched in the virtual world, and more present in the physical world.
The truth is that social media most likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
At some point, we must recognize that it’s an area of importance in teenagers’ lives these days, and negating that might further the divide. Certainly, there are valid concerns associated with social media use, but I think it’s also helpful to see what adolescents can get out of these platforms that may be more positive. Shifting the perspective might just help us better understand how to connect with them and bring some nuance into this divisive topic.
Social Media’s Positive Attributes – They do Exist!
Since the beginning of mankind, it seems there’s a pattern of older generations viewing the trends of younger generations as inherently negative. It’s sometimes easier to dismiss something new as wrong instead of adapting to it. The rise of social media is one of those trends. Let’s take for instance the app TikTok that focuses on users producing and sharing short videos. As of March 2021, 25% of TikTok users were between the ages of 10-19 years old (Statista, 2021). So, a good portion of those who are using the app are adolescents aka Gen Z. TikTok gets a bad rep from those who are outside of the social media sphere. However, there are many TikTok profiles that are devoted to spreading positive information about mental health awareness, social justice, and inclusivity. In fact, one study found that Gen Z is more likely to seek mental health services than any other generation (Cole et al., 2022). This might be attributed to a number of factors, but I would assume that a widespread dissemination of information about mental health, on apps such as TikTok and Instagram, could play a role here. It might be possible that negative stigmas associated with help-seeking could be reducing and because of that, more people are getting the help they need. Based on the alarmingly high report of Gen Z experiencing poor mental health (Bethune, 2019; Cole et al., 2022), it is crucial that they are not deterred by perceived barriers to accessing services.
In addition to increasing access to information that can promote wellbeing and connection to resources, social media allows more opportunities for one’s voice to be heard. In turn, feeling heard can contribute positively to one’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and willingness to take risks.
Now, more than ever, people are able to communicate their messages at far-reaching levels like never before. Social justice has become an area of prime importance and social media is a catalyst for that.
These platforms are minimizing the gap of knowledge so that misjustices can be targeted and acted upon. Gen Z has learned that their voices can make an impact and are using them to influence legislation and promote change, thus leading to more confidence and motivation about what one can do to make a difference.
Another positive take on social media is its ability to connect like-minded individuals. The research by Cole et al. (2022) suggests that Gen Z participants reported unmet social needs more than any other generation. In a time where we are facing a global pandemic, having any means to connect with peers may be beneficial, especially with the isolation that has resulted from social distancing. During the period of adolescence, relationships with others, especially peers around the same age, are integral to developing social skills and contributing to their knowledge of themselves. Social media extends a teenager’s network far and wide and can connect them with those who share similar interests. Not only that, but it can also connect them with resources they might not have known about prior. These may include job opportunities, physical and mental health services, or specific interest groups. An expanded awareness of opportunities can lead a teenager to have increased motivation to explore more of what’s out there.
These platforms also provide adolescents with a creative outlet where they can showcase their talents. Everything from art to coding, the internet is a breeding ground for inspiration and it’s possible that one might be encouraged to explore an area of interest that they might not have had access to beforehand. There could be a popular social media influencer that they follow and look up to for inspiration. I encourage adults to inquire about these areas of interest and what teens in their lives learn from these platforms. This broadening of their available opportunities horizon may motivate adolescents to try new, innovative things and to cultivate a sense of confidence in being themselves.
For many adults, it can be unsettling to know that a teenager close to us has a whole world they are a part of that we aren’t familiar with. However, we must keep in mind that this is a platform they use to connect, support, socialize with and learn from each other, especially during a time when many people don’t socialize as often as they once did. The world can sometimes feel very small to adolescents and even more so when they are isolated. Having access to a larger network may provide comfort and connection. That being said, it’s always important to monitor their behavior and if social media usage is causing harm, to discuss what can be done to minimize this. Creating an open, non-judgmental space for teens to share what interests them on these platforms can start insightful conversations and promote trust.
The purpose in outlining these positive influences of social media is not to promote more usage of these apps, but instead to highlight a different perspective for adults who worry that it causes nothing but harm to those they love and care about. This is not to say that if a teen you know is using social media in a harmful way, it should be brushed under the rug. If you notice that their usage of these apps is having negative effects on their mental health or that they are engaging in it in a destructive way, it might be necessary to sit down and have a conversation about boundary setting so that they can learn how to self-regulate their usage. In fact, I will write a follow-up article about how parents can monitor their child’s social media use and help them create boundaries around it. Modeling appropriate use of these apps might also be a viable way to understand current topics and show teenagers that there are healthy ways of participating online. Take a curiosity standpoint to learn about what they like to watch, who they like to follow, and weigh the pros and cons of the use of social media platforms with them. This might just motivate them to keep you in the loop now that you are showing genuine interest in their world.
Written by: Emilie Adams
Emilie Adams is a staff writer and clinical intern at Matone Counseling and Testing. Emilie received her Bachelor’s in Finance from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Bethune, S. (2019, January). Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns. Monitor on Psychology, 50(1). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/gen-z
Cole, E., Cordina, J., Enomoto, K., Jacobson, R., Mei, S., & Seshan, N. (2022, January 18). Addressing the unprecedented behavioral-health challenges facing generation Z. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved January 21, 2022, from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/addressing-the-unprecedented-behavioral-health-challenges-facing-generation-z
Published by Statista Research Department, & 15, A. (2021, April 15). U.S. tiktok users by age 2021. Statista. Retrieved January 21, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1095186/tiktok-us-users-age/