In this day and age, parents spend a good deal of time worrying about whether or not their children will be negatively affected by their interactions with technology and social media. The age groups that spend the greatest amount of time interacting on social media are the “tweens” and teens, ranging from ages nine to 18. The prevalence of technology and social media today among this age group is actually sending a false message to parents that this is the new normal for how people communicate.
The problem with this particular age group becoming too engrossed in social media interactions is that this is the time period in life when adolescents and preadolescents are supposed to be learning important social skills. In the past, before the prevalence of social media, kids learned these skills through “hanging out” with friends. What may have appeared to parents as aimless loitering and wasting time at the mall or the ball field was actually a crucial time of social learning. In these environments, kids and teens were exposed to different social situations and personalities. It was a time for them to see what worked and what didn’t, who they can trust and who they could not, who was a good friend and who wasn’t.
Today, most social interaction takes place behind a computer screen. Even talking on the telephone offered more opportunities for young people to learn social cues and the appropriate ways to respond to those cues rather than texting or through digital communication. Social media eliminates genuine human interaction. Friendships, which are now largely conducted through social media or texting are devoid of many of the intimate benefits of eye contact, body language, voice tones and many other critical human characteristics that make friendships genuine and enduring.
Children and teens who spend so much time on social media can have so little exposure to real friendship, that when they do encounter (non-sexual) intimate situations, the experience will feel foreign and perhaps even frightening to them. This can have terrible consequences on their ability to feel connected and loved by others. A detachment of this magnitude can contribute to serious mental health issues such as teenage depression and isolation.
Later in life, children and teens who were formerly addicted to social media may encounter many difficulties in their relationships including spousal and with their own children. This sense of disconnect can continue to pervade and affect their ability to interact in the most sacred of intimate settings, marriage and parenthood. This seclusion from others can lead to mental health issues including depression and even suicidal tendencies.
What Parents can do
Parents can help their children build real interactions by encouraging them to invite friends over and facilitate outdoor group activities such as hiking, swimming, cookouts or campfires with the child’s friends. Avoid the convenient path of simply letting a child hide behind his or her phone or computer screens. Facilitating real interactions is time consuming and inconvenient sometimes, but well worth it when a child’s future mental health is at stake. If you find that your child is developing an addiction to social media and would like more information on how to handle the situation, call our facility today.