Social media and teens

A social media user on the internet. Our letter writer believes social media has some definite benefits for teenagers but the onus is on the user. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

A social media user on the internet. Our letter writer believes social media has some definite benefits for teenagers but the onus is on the user. Picture: ELIKI NUKUTABU

I am usually quite critical of social media. From sexting to cyberbullying, social media has its share of negatives. But in fairness to social media, I should point out some positives.

Teens are leading the charge against cyberbullying. In the US, they organised a national school walkout day to protest gun laws after the tragic shooting in one school that killed 17 people, mostly students. That is savvy use of social media.

For a few years, many teens have been saying that social media — despite its flaws — is mostly positive. And new research is shedding light on the good things that can happen when kids connect, share and learn online.

As kids begin to use tools such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and even YouTube in earnest, they’re learning the responsibility that comes with the power to broadcast to the world. You can help nurture the positive aspects by accepting how important social media is for kids and helping them find ways for it to add real value to their lives. Here are some of the benefits of your child being social-media-savvy:

It lets them do good. Twitter, Facebook and other large social networks expose kids to important issues and people from all over the world. Kids realise they have a voice they didn’t have before and are doing everything from crowdfunding social justice projects to anonymously tweeting positive thoughts.

It can offer a sense of belonging. While heavy social media use can isolate kids, a study conducted by Griffith University and the University of Queensland in Australia found that although American teens have fewer friends than their historical counterparts, they are less lonely than teens in past decades. They report feeling less isolated and have become more socially adept, partly because of an increase in technology use.

It provides genuine support. Online acceptance — whether a kid is interested in an unusual subject that isn’t considered cool or is grappling with sexual identity — can validate a marginalised child. Suicidal teens can even get immediate access to quality support online. One example occurred on a forum on Reddit when an entire online community used voice-conferencing software to talk a teenager out of committing suicide.

It helps them express themselves. The popularity of fan fiction (original stories based on existing material that people write and upload online) proves how strong the desire is for self-expression. Producers and performers can satisfy this need through social media. Digital technology allows kids to share their work with a wider audience and even collaborate with far-flung partners (an essential 21st- century skill). If they’re really serious, social media can provide essential feedback for kids to hone their craft.

Shakespeare said, “There is some soul of goodness in things evil, would man observingly distil it out”.

Social media has some definite benefits. The onus is upon the user to exercise discretion and prudence in using it — for good.