Smarter Social Media: Tips For Raising Responsible Online Citizens

By Amy Tate

Amy Tate handles government relations for TVA and serves as a mentor for the Milam Girls Leadership Academy, New Expectations for Women in Leadership and Oxford’s Girl EmPOWERment program.

The communication opportunities teens have with their friends online make those that need to happen with their parents in person all the more important. Good guidance and a strong understanding of what these influences mean are critical components for growing healthy young adults.

According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens either have a smartphone or have regular access to one, 45 percent of those say they’re online on a nearly constant basis, often up to nine hours per day, and roughly nine in 10 teens go online at least multiple times daily. The use of a growing variety of social media platforms is how our teenagers communicate and interact, and they’ll be doing so for the foreseeable future. It’s not a fad, and it’s not going away.

The challenge for parents and mentors, then, is to make sure the exposure this creates to the wider world and to common human flaws that would otherwise be hidden occurs within the right parameters when possible, and with an advanced understanding when not.

Among social media’s benefits lie opportunities to develop connections, take part in creative communities, strengthen friendships, find a sense of belonging and a forum for self-expression and gain the simple chance to learn new things overall. These hours of screen time can often prove harmful as well, though. Studies are showing increasing links between the overuse of social media and a variety of health concerns such as anxiety and body image issues.

What began with Facebook years ago has grown to include an ever-changing variety of platforms, each with its own methods of use and rules of the road. It’s not plausible for a parent to establish hard guardrails that defend against everything. The better strategy is to communicate with each child so they know where the pitfalls lie before they step in. As with society at large, we can’t depend on external structures to do the job.



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