Jonathan Long, principal of the renowned Woodstock School, Mussoorie, has found- through his study of a research- that teenagers find social media a valuable source of self- expression and helpful in making them feel less lonely and more connected. Thus parental concerns about use of social media by their children may not be needed much.
Long studied Common Sense Media’s latest research on the social media habits of teenagers around the world. Common Sense Media is a leading independent non-profit organisation which exists to help young people thrive in a world of technology. In fact, some of their outstanding classroom materials are used at Woodstock for parts of the Personal, Social and Health Education Programme. In partnership with the University of Southern California, Common Sense Media’s new report The New Normal: Parents ,Teens and Devices Around the World takes a look at how social media and mobile technology have completely changed the lives of our children — impacting their lifestyles, relationships and habits in profound ways.
“The evidence is overwhelming that, for the most part, teens are doing fine on social media. Through their experience of social media, they are feeling less anxious, less depressed and less lonely,” Sierra Filucci, chief executive editor, Common Sense Media, says.
What Long found fascinating in this report is the way in which young people themselves are very positive about their use of social media. It seems that either parents’ and educators’ fears about teenagers and social media are overstated or young people are fooling themselves about its impact on their lives.
Here are a few of the key findings in the research:
·Teenagers report that social media has a positive rather than a negative effect on how they feel. They say that using social media strengthens their friendships, allows them to express themselves more easily and makes them feel more connected.
·In 2012, almost 70% of teenagers said that Facebook was their main social media site. That figure has dropped to 15%. Instagram is now the leading platform.
·In 2012, almost 50% of teenagers claimed that their favorite way to communicate was in person. That figure has dropped to 32%. According to this new research, sending a text message is now a teenager’s number one method of communication. Close to 20% of teenagers reported using social media “almost constantly”, and over 20% say they use it several times an hour.
Common Sense Media’s Chief Executive Editor, Sierra Filucci, says, “The evidence is overwhelming that, for the most part, teens are doing fine on social media. Through their experience of social media, they are feeling less anxious, less depressed and less lonely,”
Whilst quick to identify the pitfalls and distractions of social media, teenagers are saying that social media provides them a valuable source of creative self-expression and makes them feel less lonely and more connected. In fact, the report says, “Across every measure in our survey, teens are more likely to say that social media has a positive rather than a negative effect on how they feel.”
Long says that despite the very positive feedback from the teenagers themselves, three things struck him in the report as concerns. First, for teenagers with low levels of emotional well-being, the report says that social media tends to be more of a negative influence than a positive one.
In fact, social media can exacerbate a situation in which a vulnerable teenager feels isolated, bullied or threatened. Second, the report mentions the growing evidence that mental health issues linked to mobile phone use and a lack of sleep is something parents and educators should be worried about.
This is something which is taken seriously at Woodstock. The school’s night-time device policy is one attempt to minimize this risk. Third, we don’t yet have any studies which show the real long-term impact of social media by teenagers. Until then, the court is still out on whether or not it is quite as good as teenagers seem to think it is!
The great social critic, Neil Postman made that point that all technologies (like mobile phones and social media) give us something and also take something away. In other words, all technology is a double-edged sword. In his book, The End of Education : Redefining the Value of School, he wrote some words which advise parents and educators, to be cautious and careful when it comes to the use of any technology – to make sure we are aware of what we are losing by using it, as much as we are aware of what we are gaining.
“The computer and its associated technologies are awesome additions to a culture, and they are quite capable of altering the psychic, let alone the sleeping, habits of our young,” says Postman. “But like all important technologies of the past, they are Faustian bargains, giving and taking away, sometimes in equal measure, sometimes more in one way than the other. It is strange — indeed, shocking — that… we can still talk of new technologies as if they were unmixed blessings, gifts, as it were, from the gods.”
Woodstock continues to adopt a cautious and prudent approach — trying to maintain a balance between sensible use and banning all forms of social media. As is often the case in life, it is in holding the moderate and balanced path that we find the greatest wisdom, says Long.