Smartphones, Social Media and Teens: Benefits, Risks and Radiation?

Teens, across the nation and around the world, will be heading back to school soon. While teens were “relaxing” over the summer, researchers were doing their due diligence by continuing to explore the impact smartphones and social media have on teens.  Let’s take a look at what we know and explore some new information that might be helpful to teens, parents and educators.

What we’ve known for a while is that smartphones and social media have been linked to anxiety, depression, stress, lack of sleep, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts found in teens.  Teen anxiety and depression treatment centers have risen up in large numbers.  Longer hours on social media have been found to increase a teen’s risk of cyberbullying, lower self-esteem and may cause loss of valuable friend, family, and personal time.

While social media has benefits such as instant and often meaningful communication with family and peers, being constantly on has become a social media trap for many teens.  By increasing the time spent on measuring and managing their social media success on sites like Instagram and Snapchat, experts fear overuse may be adding risks to teen’s mental health.  Being constantly on, plugged in 24/7 – many teens never get a break.

Statistically, girls who spend several hours on their smartphones and social media each day tend to develop more social and emotional problems than boys.  Teen girls spend more time cultivating their online identity, comparing themselves to their peers and paying more attention to “likes.”  Teen boys tend to spend more time gaming and less time worrying about online identity.

Recently it was noted that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone.

We know that teens who are constantly on, keeping up with the latest apps, gaming, spending longer hours on social media, and wondering and worrying about how they measure up to their peers run the risk of higher than normal academic challenges and mental health issues.

Adult awareness to the many tactics used to get teens (and others) hooked to social media is the first step toward understanding and breaking the “constantly on” cycle.  Adults have, at their fingertips, bundles of research and studies as to the “why and how” teenagers get hooked, become addicted to social networking, and, as a consequence, have difficulty putting their smartphone and other devices aside.

The Latest…

When it comes to smartphones, social media and teens, it now appears there is more to consider.  In a recent article entitled, “Smartphones are killing teenagers’ memories, study says” by Chris Ciaccia, it was suggested and supported by the study referred to in the title, that radiation from smartphones is negatively impacting teenagers’ memories, leaving them with short-term memory loss. Perhaps now that more people are incorporating more organic living into so many aspects of their lives, they might also consider putting down their technology.

Reference:

https://www.swisstph.ch/en/news/news-detail/news/mobile-phone-radiation-may-affect-memory-performance-in-adolescents/

Social Media Challenges Are The New Dares

Dares have been around for a long time.  Accepting dares for any number of reasons, kids have been known to burn themselves with erasers, touch hot stove coils, and choke themselves. Common results were pain, scarring or worse. Social Media Challenges are the new dares

In many cases causing, irreparable damage to a person’s otherwise healthy body, Social Media Challenges are the latest in what’s being termed as stupid and dangerous internet fads.   Social Media Challenges such as the  Tide Pod ChallengeHot Coil Challenge and Deodorant Challenge take inflicting bodily harm to a new level.  In the news recently, first, second and even third degree burns are known to be the result of holding an arm, for as long as possible, on a red hot stove coil (Hot Coil Challenge) or spraying deodorant on someone, in the same spot, for as long as possible (Deodorant Challenge) for all the world to see!

Accepting the Deodorant Challenge, 3 young teenage girls suffered horrific burns, were hospitalized and now face skin grafts.  The Deodorant Challenge, also known as the aerosol challenge, has been around for a while.  A year ago, parents were warned about the Deodorant Challenge and advised to impress upon their children the dangers of burns of any type including those from pressurized gas within a deodorant can.

Summer is coming and with it the possibility of kids getting bored and, to fill the gap, spending hours and hours on social media.  Social Media Challenges may be tempting so before boredom sets in, talk to your child about the dangers of participating in Social Media Challenges.  Help your child understand that Social Media Challenges may damage or permanently scar a perfectly healthy body ~ for life!

Teens of Value Social Media

Knowing why teens value social media is just as important as understanding why teens are taking breaks from social media.  Behind teens and social media is purpose driven social media marketing.  Not unlike adults, teens desire to be relevant, be a part of a group or community and have value.  Unlike when their parents were growing up and had personal friend connections but often limited transportation or restrictions on time to be with those friends, teens today can hang out with their friends, all the time, 24/7, wherever they are! Social media has created a feeling of connectedness never experienced in human history.

Teens talk about their desires, personal issues, fears, and thoughts on social media.  But there is a downside to all of this connectedness ~ social media is also where cyberbullying and sexual exploitation of young people occur.  Sadly, many teens and younger children, who are being victimized, seldom tell their parents until it is too late.

Parents need to be present in their teen’s social media world while educators need to be vigilant in recognizing signs of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, poor sleep habits, eating disorders or body image issues in their students, which all may be related to the affects of social media.

Digital Citizenship: More Important Than Ever

Respect, educate, prevent and protect are commonly associated with digital citizenship.  Today, we are finding these common elements are more important than even when it comes to how students and adults conduct themselves, especially on social media.

Digital Citizenship as defined in an article written by Terry Heick, is “The quality of habits, actions, and consumption patters that impact the ecology of digital content and communities.”

Heick goes on to write, “As more and more students interact digitally – with content, one another, and various communities – the concept of digital citizenship becomes increasingly important.”  “The Definition of Digital Citizenship” (2017).

Heavy use of information technology today requires certain sites to set and enforce a standard of digital etiquette that involves the use of appropriate behavior and language. Without such expectations digital citizens may experience digital laws broken, rights violated, physical and mental stress, and/or online security jeopardized.

Brain and Social Media

There have been several articles written about how social media affects the brain. CNN reported recently that researchers at UCLA’s Brain Mapping Center found that when teenagers’ photos get lots of “likes” on social media apps, such as Instagram, their brains respond in a similar way to seeing loved ones or winning money.

Dr. Lisa Strohman, Founder and CEO of Digital Citizen Academy, in her frequent presentations to parents and teachers, stresses the fact that regions of the brain in teens become “activated” by “likes”, with the brain’s reward center becoming especially active.  She compares face-to-face interactions with online interactions and the obvious fact that, when you go online, there is no way to “read” someone’s facial expressions. Often interactions are misinterpreted and messages ineffective.

Teens spend an average of 9 hours a day on social media, which now researchers say is affecting the brain’s neuroplasticity – the way the brain grows and changes after experiencing different things.  What does this mean for future generations?  As teens grow up, will they, for example, be able to read subtle expressions on faces?   How will they adapt differently to their environment?

Digital Addiction: Social Networking ~ A 24/7 Distraction

Addiction defined is the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.

 In a recent article in the Boston Herald stating, “What began as a method of emergency contact has evolved into a 24/7 distraction, spurring what many would classify as a digital addiction for adults and teens alike,” underscores the need for parents, educators and entire communities to understand the implications for this and future generations. (“Teenagers, adults dangerously addicted to cellphones, says study,”by Lindsay Kalter, Monday, May 7. 2018)

Digital addiction begins in early childhood years when parents first put devices in kid’s hands to soothe or distract them.  Small children are known to throw tantrums or become depressed and anxious when devices are withheld.  We now know that what begins as an addiction early in life, can manifest itself into uncontrollable anger, anxiety, eating disorders and even suicide for teens, failing grades, shorter attention spans, distracted driving, conversations with complete strangers, likes for photos from thousands of people we don’t know, sleep loss, and deficient brain development.

A former Facebook VP, Chamath Palihapitiya, has said publicly that social media is destroying society with ‘dopamine-driven feedback loops.’  He feels guilt over his role in promoting social networking in a way that it has eroded “the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”  He admits he and others knew something bad could happen with the development of the FB platform.  He also admits that he seldom uses social networks and does not allow his children to use them at all.

Questions parents and teachers should be asking:  How does social networking impact the students in your school or at home?  What, if any, steps have been taken to decrease the amount of time students are on their cell phones during school hours or at home?

Teach Students To Use Social Media The Right Way

Focusing on the positive impact of social media in the classroomteach students to use social media the right way by demonstrating why it’s important to be proficient in digital communications skills such as texting, tweeting, and Instagramming.

Use social media to foster collaborative community learning environments.  Get creative and involve students in how collaborative learning environments might be achieved.  Encourage students to create authentic, creative work through blogs, YouTube, or podcasts.  Balance the use of technology with other important communication skills such as writing, speaking, and listening.

Administrators can be instrumental in making sure equipment and internet access are available for all students.  They can designate professional development be used for training teachers in strategies to support purposeful use of social media that meet district policy and provide clear learning outcomes. They can be role models for teachers and students by using social media in a way that promotes constructive, positive messages about school, students and families.

Impact of Social Media on Learning

Does social media impact learning?  Let’s look at the positive and negative impact of social media on learning.

Positive impact for learning ~ digital communication skills that need to be mastered including texting, tweeting, and Instagramming can be strengthened.  Students are more willing to complete assignments when they can use technology to research and share information, communicate or create ideas.

Using social media can foster collaborative community learning environments.  Students have options for creating authentic, creative work through blogs, YouTube, or podcasts – just to name a few.  It is yet to be seen whether or not social media can improve grades.

Negative impact for learning ~ Using social media can cause overstimulation and lack of focus, cyberbullying and plagiarism, distraction to the point of failure, poor decision-making leading to a negative digital footprint, and lack of adequate cyber security to protect students.  In addition, students unable to navigate platforms and operating systems find themselves at a disadvantage.

When it comes to students using social media, the impact on learning can be both positive and negative.