Social media is creating unprecedented challenges for teenagers. It is a road where they are constantly surrounded by their peers; where rumours and reputations can be shared in an instant; where cruel or just thoughtless messages can be sent and then vanish before they are traced; where intimate photos can be exposed and shared; where bullying can be amplified; where physical flaws get highlighted and images of apparent perfection are flaunted. It is a road largely untraveled by their parents, whose self-image was constructed in a time before social media, through real interactions and relationships. Parents are largely shut out and our young people negotiate it on their own. Studies suggest it is a major contributor to mental health problems, poor sleep patterns and social competency development. Whilst some children can be helped to gain friendships through social media, for the vast majority, it is a complex, unpredictable and uncertain road on which all too many young people crash.
Children who show attention needing, deflecting and impulsivity behaviours will need help to limit what they disclose of themselves on social media. Parents will need to help them be more cautious about the images they share, the personal information, details and stories they disclose. Parents will also need to monitor the amount of time they spend on social media, vulnerability to online bullying and the risks such children have to social mimicry: doing things which they see, or believe, are the ways to retain a favourable response from their online audience.
Children who show closed, remote and attention avoidant behaviours will also need help to develop positive real relationships. Parents will need to watch out for chats, groups and friend requests with unexpected, or unusual contacts.
Parents should recognise that when children are drawn into inappropriate online relationships, they may present a deflecting, over-normalised front stage as a mask. It is important to be alert to small visible indicators: physical signs such as unplanned trips, secretive behaviours, substance wrappers, unexpected objects, notes in bins may be an alert to another hidden life.
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- The articles on this page support children with patterns of behaviour which are known to be particularly associated with problems with social media.