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January 3, 2018 | Family Medicine
Technology has an increasingly bigger role in modern life, especially in the lives of children and teens. Research suggests that reliance on certain kinds of technology may be limiting social development in teens, leading to more anxiety and lower self-esteem.
Social Media Affects Communication
Social media is one of the most common activities among teens and young people today. According to a 2009 poll, 22 percent of teens said they log on to a social media site 10 times a day. That number has surely increased in recent years as more and more teens have access to cell phones and computers. Because of this, teens are learning to communicate almost exclusively through a screen.
Limited personal interaction presents a risk for a poor understanding of social cues. Things like body language and facial expressions, which are vital tools for communicating in the world, are not a part of social media interaction.
Risks of Social Media and Technology
Friendships are a big part of social development—in a friendship, young people learn the value of being open and honest while listening to someone else’s thoughts and concerns. When communication between friends is almost exclusively online, however, many of the most important lessons we learn through interpersonal communication are lost.
Additionally, online communication does not allow anyone to hear or see the way their words are impacting another person, and people may even feel comfortable saying things they wouldn’t normally say in a face-to-face conversation. This means teens are getting far too little practice with interpersonal relationships, and this can lead to social anxiety.
Because less is at stake with impersonal communications, it can lead to increased cruelty. It’s far easier for a teen to text a horrible thing than it would be for a teen to say the same thing directly to a peer’s face. This mentality often results in cyberbullying.
Young girls are at a particular risk here, because they are like to compare themselves to others in order to create an identity. Bullying is not new, but online tools have only made it easier and with less consequence. This leads to major self-esteem issues in many kids, who may choose to form alternative online identities to shield themselves, which can make it more difficult to gain true self-esteem later in life.
Stalking and Feeling Ignored
The internet never sleeps, and online relationships offer supercharged avenues for the kinds of obsession that can be detrimental to teens. Kids never get a break from their social interactions, and this can produce a huge amount of pressure and anxiety.
What this also means is that teens are highly aware of situations where they’re being ignored. A simple failure to respond to online communication can leave ignored teens thinking the worst, wondering what they could have done wrong. Feeling like you are being ignored may lead to online stalking habits.
What You Can Do as a Parent
As a parent, there are a few things you can do to help avoid some of the negatives that accompany social media use:
If screen time and social media is having a negative effect on your teen’s self-esteem and anxiety, talk with them. Your doctor may be able to offer other recommendations.
I practice the full range of family medicine including obstetrics, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, adult medicine and some orthopedics. I also perform colposcopy, cryotherapy and vasectomies. Due to the volume of deliveries we do, my practice has evolved to be more centered on women and children’s medicine, although I enjoy all aspects of family medicine.
“How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers.” Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects-teenagers/
“The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.” American Academy of Pediatrics.
Maria Oneida, MD
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.