Keeping Your Teens’ Social Media In Balance - Hope 103.2

Keeping Your Teens’ Social Media In Balance

The habit of “lurking” on social media is is causing many teenagers to feel socially excluded, according to a new study of 13-year-olds.

By Clare BruceMonday 12 Oct 2015ParentingReading Time: 5 minutes

The habit of “lurking” on social media is is causing many teenagers to feel socially excluded, according to a new study commissioned by CNN

It’s also stealing their opportunity to think creatively, go outdoors for physical activity, and form relationships.

But despite the relentless pressure for teenagers to “fit in” online, there are simple steps parents can take to help keep their teens’ social media use in check.

Australian psychologist and parenting writer Collett Smart told Hope Media that teens respond best if parents hold mature discussions with them, instead of being alarmist and banning them from social media.

Study Reveals “Lurking” Is A Common Practice

Teen Boy In Bed With computer

The CNN study, conducted by two US academics, involved over 200 13-year-old students from schools in the USA.

The students agreed to have all of their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts recorded for around seven months, and then were interviewed about their social media interactions.

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A large proportion of the teens were found to have spent a lot of time “lurking”, which is the term for reading and watching peers’ posts and images, but not actually posting anything themselves.

“A third of the teenagers [in the study] checked social media, without posting, about 25 times a day during the week,” Collett said, “but even more on the weekend: some of the heaviest users were on there about 100 a times a day.”

Emotional Fallout Of Lurking On Facebook & Instagram

Girl With Smartphone In School Hall

The researchers behind the study said “lurking” resulted in young people perceiving that their friends had fun without them, comparing their lives to others, and feeling unpopular and unworthy.

“Our young people are seeing pictures of their friends gathering without them at parties, and they getting this perception that everyone else’s lives are more glamorous than their own,” Collett said.

“They feel like their peers are liked, commented [on] and favourited more than themselves. So they compare themselves to the likes of their peers. It’s really about being excluded.”

Teens Just Want To Fit In

Teen Friends Group Selfie

Collett said that while social media was new, the deep need of teenagers to “fit in” was not.

“Before social media was ever around, we’ve always cared deeply about fitting in,” she said. “Adolescents have always felt hurt when they were excluded from face to face interactions.

“The difference is now, they cannot go home and have a break from it. It follows them home, and it’s there 24/7.”

Social Media Presents A False Reality

Two teen girls taking selfie photo at beach

The problem with obsessing over others’ lives based on the images and comments they post on social media, is that those images and comments are a very carefully doctored presentation of reality.

“Really what they’re seeing is highly groomed, carefully chosen, filtered pictures, strategically posted at certain times of day by their peers, simply to attract the maximum number of likes and comments,” Collett said.

One girl in the study said she took over 100 selfies or pictures of herself at a time so that she could choose the best one before posting — an indicator of just how constructed online images are.

Popularity Ranked By Facebook “Likes”

Two teen schoolgirls with smartphone

Among teenagers, social media is used widely as a way of judging peoples’ likeability and popularity.

“Those seen as the popular group are very clever at marketing themselves,” Collett said. “They know exactly when to put things up [on social media, to attract maximum attention].

Collett said apps such as “Instalike” are used among teenagers to earn popularity by trading likes on posts and images.

“[Social media] really is the social barometer,” she said. ”It tells you where you are in your social group.”

Parents Need To Have Mature Discussions With Teens

Parents and teen daughter having discussion

Despite the dangers of practices like lurking, Collett said it was important not to “demonise” the use of social media. The idea, she said, is to empower teenagers to regulate their use of the technology instead.

“The important thing is to not freak out as much as you probably will feel like,” she said.

“Social media is part of our young peoples’ world now. So taking it away from them excludes them even more from their social group.

Social media is part of their world… Taking it away from them excludes them even more. ~ Collett Smart

“What we need to do is pick relaxed times – not highly charged times – when we talk to our teens about studies like this. I even read this study to my own children. It normalises for them that other people are feeling the same way as they are.”

She suggested parents ask their teens how they feel when they’re highly absorbed in social media, compared to times when they take a break from it.

“Many teens will come around to times when they feel like “actually I do need a Sabbatical from this”,” she said.

What Are Your Teens Posting About Themselves?

Young Person On Laptop

Another idea is to ask your teens what they post themselves.

Over a third of the 13-year-olds who participated in the CNN study research said they themselves had posted on social media in ways that made others feel excluded.

Encourage your children to consider how they are making others feel when they make a post.

Putting Boundaries On Social Media Use

Teen boy sitting in tree with phone

The researchers of the study said the untold hours teens are spending on social media was stealing their time to “think, daydream, problem solve, read, converse with others, do homework, enjoy the beauty of nature, or engage in physical activity”.

That’s why it’s critical to put boundaries around their use of the technology and help them to self-regulate.

“Make sure as parents you set times aside for homework, sport, going out in nature,” she said. “And help them to self-monitor and choose times to have breaks.”

She also suggested extended breaks are helpful.

“Maybe a time when they’re on holiday, because our teens need time to daydream, to problem-solve, to converse with others.

“If you talk teens through all these studies, they’re pretty good at realising the stress it’s causing them when they’re around it all the time.”

The strongest recommendation that Collett gave parents was to “keep technology out of bedrooms at night”.

“A separate study found that almost 25 % of young people said they wake up at night to use social media platforms regularly,” she said.