Post written by Ron Cook
How has the world of social media changed since the year 2000?
- In 2000 the average American spent 2.7 hours per week online; in 2012 the average American spent 18 hours per week online.
- In 2000 Facebook didn’t exist. In 2010 there were 600 million people on Facebook.
- In 2000 YouTube didn’t exist. In 2010 there were 2 billion videos watched per day on YouTube.
- In 2000 Twitter didn’t exist. In 2010 there were 25 billion tweets on Twitter.
- In 2000 iTunes didn’t exist. In 2010 there were 10 billion downloads from iTunes.
- In 2000 Wikipedia didn’t exist. In 2010 there were 19 million articles on Wikipedia.
What are the benefits of children and teens using social media?
Socialization and Communication
According to a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Social media sites allow teens to accomplish online many of the tasks that are important to them offline: staying connected with friends and family, making new friends, sharing pictures, and exchanging ideas. Social media participation also can offer adolescents deeper benefits that extend into their view of self, community, and the world.”
Enhanced Learning Opportunities
Middle and high school students are increasingly using social media to connect with one another to complete homework assignments and other group projects. Sites such as Facebook provide a gathering place for students to collaborate their studies. In addition, some schools have successfully used blogs as teaching tools to develop skills in English, writing, and creativity.
What are the risks?
Cyberbullying and Online Harassment
Cyberbullying is defined as, “deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person.” This is the most common form of online harassment.
Sexting is defined as “sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images via cell phone, computer, or other digital devices.”
While still not fully understood, the American Academy of Pediatrics has noted a new form of depression that occurs when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook or MySpace, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression. According to researchers, “acceptance by and contact with peers is an important element of adolescent life. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents. As with offline depression, preadolescents and adolescents who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and sometimes turn to risky Internet sites and blogs for “help” that may promote substance abuse, unsafe sexual practices, or aggressive or self-destructive behaviors.”
How Should a Parent Respond?
- Monitor your own use of social media. Kids and teens often model their parents’ behavior. Set an example for your children of responsible use of social media (and all forms of media for that matter). Consider the words of the Apostle Paul, “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23)
- Talk to your children about meaningful offline relationships. Social media has created a vehicle for teens to sidestep the critical life task of forming attachment bonds with others. Teens that suffer from low self-esteem or have experienced rejection may find online relationships less intimidating and therefore will prioritize those relationships over meaningful offline relationships.
- Make pleasing God the goal. 1 John 2:15-17 applies to any overindulgence in worldly pursuits: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (ESV).
- Seek professional help. Addiction to social media can often be an indicator of deeper emotional and spiritual issues. When this is the case, talking with someone who can ask the right questions is often the most effective solution.
 Statistics taken from Josh McDowell presentation, “Just 1 Click Away,” at the 2011 American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference in Nashville, TN.
 O’Keefe, Gwenn MD, and Kathleen Clarke-Pearson MD, From the American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report, The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families. (Published online March 28, 2011).