By: Chief David A. Paprota, Ed.D.
The Internet and the use of social media have created a whole new social dynamic for today’s teens that differs tremendously from the social environment that their parents experienced as teens. The concept of social exchange and interaction is no longer dependent upon physical proximity or an individual telephone call, but is instead a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week constant reality. Teens are deeply invested in the use of social media, and as such, they experience the constant pressures of peer influence and often times peer criticism that may have a profound impact on their self-esteem as well as their behavior(s). The pressure teens face today due to ever present and unregulated social media postings and exchanges needs to be considered and better understood by parents.
Parents should be well versed in the types of social media applications their teens are utilizing. The thought of parents having access to a teen’s social media accounts is often met with the concern regarding “trust” and “respecting the teen’s privacy.” These are legitimate concerns, as teens will be the first to passionately raise the issue when parents ask for access. The reality is that the Internet and the use of social media literally bring the ills of the entire world directly into the hands of teenagers. Every conceivable negative influence is readily available via the Internet and is regularly posted by others via social media.
The thought of a 15-year-old boy walking out of his parents’ home stating that he is going alone to the city to “hang” for a few days without any further contact or involvement of the parents, would be met with an appropriate response that such an undertaking would be ridiculous and not acceptable. This seems obvious, yet most parents allow the unfettered and unmonitored use of social media which brings the ills of society directly into the hands of teens. Parental monitoring and guidance is an expected and necessary part of a teen’s healthy psycho-social development and safety. Unfortunately, when parental oversight and monitoring relates to the Internet and social media, there is often an immediate mention of a perceived lack of trust and privacy. The analogy of releasing the teen alone for days in the city is not a far stretch, as the use of social media among teens may involve every conceivable concern a parent can have when dealing with the most troubling aspects of our society.
Videos, photos, links to websites, and comments are regularly circulated via social media not only depicting illegal conduct, but even providing instruction on how to engage in the criminal conduct. For example, teens are barraged with images of their schoolmates engaging in the underage consumption of alcohol and the use of illegal drugs as a common interaction on social media outlets such as Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat allows the user to send out photos and videos (up to 10 seconds in length) that self-delete once opened and viewed by the receiver(s). The sender can set the image to briefly flash and delete in as little as 1 second. Teens are very creative and bold in sending these images which often depict nudity, drug use, etc. While they believe the images delete and are no longer available, the reality is that the troubling images are easily captured using various applications, such as Snapcapture, Snapsave, and Snaphack. Nothing sent via the Internet or through a cellular phone should ever be considered permanently deleted.
Each of the social media applications require the use of a valid email address to initiate and maintain an account and rely on a User ID and password to access. The most popular social media applications currently used by teens today are Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Vine, while Facebook has largely fallen out of favor with teens, since it is dominated by adults. While teens commonly maintain a Facebook account, they utilize the other outlets for peer interaction. In addition to social media applications, the use of YouTube is very common both to research questionable behaviors and to post videos of questionable behaviors. Parents will often demand to know who taught their teen about illegal drugs, when in fact the teen learned all they needed to no through very detailed YouTube videos that the teen researched and observed via the Internet while within their own homes. Literally, everything is available via the Internet and tends to make its way to teens through social media, so parents should work to stay informed as to what is influencing their teens.