Is it as simple as Social Media addiction?

Jon Trew

 Independent Safeguarding Consultant

The lockdown and social isolation has been hard for all of us but it is probably hardest of all for teenagers.
A 2010 study by University College London showed that the changes that go on in the brains of children during the teenage years make them much keener to seek out the company of their peers than any other age groups. The study which used brain scanning technology also showed that teenagers feel being socially excluded by their peers much more deeply than others.  In layman’s terms ‘teenagers are hardwired to want to hang out with their mates!’ Fortunately for today’s teenagers, technology has come to their rescue and you will find that the teenagers you live and work with are glued to their phones, and computers.

Many worry about teenagers becoming addicted to social media. Dana Boyd in ‘It’s Complicated’ her seminal study on Social Networking in teenagers says “the language of addiction sensationalizes teens’ engagement with technology and suggests that mere participation leads to pathology… Most teens aren’t addicted to social media; if anything, they’re addicted to each other.”  Whether teens are addicted to social media or not, extended hours spent gaming, or on social networking sites will increase the likelihood that they may receive unwanted contact by those who want to abuse, hurt or bully them.

Unfortunately there is no 100% effective filtering software, or switch hidden deep in the settings that can stop online abuse.  So what can we do as parents and educators to protect our children when they use social networking?  The answer is this …‘Engage in your children’s online life’.
If your children were into football, then you would have to learn the offside rule and be able to identify the Real Madrid goalkeepers’ away kit.  So we should also talk to them about their online lives.  ‘Which sub-Reddits are they into. How does Snapchat work? Do they use TikTok?’  While you are having this conversation, perhaps you could ask their advice. “What should I do if somebody sends me something I don’t like, or says something horrible to me? What do you do?”  Keeping these lines of communication open are essential. If teenagers think we won’t understand, or we will freak out and ban them forever, they will not tell us when things go wrong. If they don’t tell us then we will not be able to help them. Being locked up together could be the perfect opportunity to start this conversation about their online lives.