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Teens and Social Media: Are Social Skills Slipping?

November 19, 2014 at 9:31 PM

Listen to any conversations involving parents and you are likely to hear a complaint about their teens and social media. Often heard is “Johnny never puts that phone down; always on Facebook or Snapchat or something!”

One study reported by Common Sense Media states that most teenagers are involved in some form of social media, the vast majority using social media daily. “Two-thirds (68%) of teens text every day, half (51%) visit social networking sites daily, and 11% send or receive tweets at least once every day”. USA Today expects, “As more generations are born into the social age, social media will continue to be the favored communication form among young people.”

And what of the face-to-face social skills that seem to be lacking when the phone is the eternal attraction? Teens are reported to have accidents both on foot and in vehicles, too concerned with what is coming across the screen. People have even died after being distracted when taking selfies.

Social practices such as eye to eye contact and media free conversations are rare. "There's no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills,” says Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect. “it's not like (texting and social communication) creates a nonverbal learning disability, but it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible."

Another main concern with teens and social media is the sense of worth that some teens seem to take away. Too often they base their self-esteem and reputation on their popularity in social media. “Likes translate into validation and attention,” said Diana Graber, co-founder of CyberWise.org. According to Childmind Mind Institute, “The more we relegate our communication to indirect means, the more we're creating opportunities for kids to be anxious about our species' primary means of communication—talking.”

So where do we as parents interpose with teens and social media without hovering? We need to start by putting down our own phones and having a one-on-one with our teen. It’s important to go back over the basic safety rules of knowing who they are talking to and staying on trusted sites. It’s also important to stress that whatever is posted stays in cyberspace always.

Shawn Marie Edgington, author of The Parent's Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media says “Write a contract for your child about how they behave on social media. Outline consequences: If you take away a 16-year-old's cell phone, it's worse than taking away his car."

Social media is like walking upright. It’s will forever be a part of the human experience in the future. Our best bet is to give our teen a firm footing for a long, social path by teaching them that everything, including social media use, should be done in moderation.

                      How social media can help your teen or tween flourish                
Steven Woda

Written by Steven Woda

Steve Woda is the co-founder and CEO of uKnow, and a leader in the Internet safety and security field for over 15 years. He frequently speaks on the topics of Internet and mobile security, ecommerce and information economics. You can follow Steve on Twitter or on his blog.

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