Youths, Adults, and Conceptions about Social Media

Look online and you’re likely going to find guides upon tips upon warnings about how adolescents use social media and how parents should monitor and be cautious about their children’s’ activity online – with almost all of them being written by adults. The opposite is less likely to occur, where these same adolescents can openly express what they wish adults and parents knew about their social media use.

However, adolescent voices, naturally, are out there online. And they’re making their opinions known about what they wish their parents, and other adults, knew about social media. Anyone, regardless of age, is on the Internet and social media in some capacity, but it’s an accepted fact that teens, adolescents, and young adults dominate the space (Gen Z is often regarded as the first generation to grow up not knowing a world without the Internet and social media, for example). Those who didn’t grow up with the Internet understandably may have some fears about what youths, especially their children, might be exposed to. Think of the classic case where adults have the fear that kids are talking to an old creepy man posing as someone their age. Without consulting these young demographics however, the negatives can be emphasized more so than the positives, including the prevalence and emphasis of cyberbullying, sexting, exposure to inappropriate content, and narcissism.

But here’s what some adolescents wish that adults knew about how they use social media:

In one essay, a high school senior defended her generation’s use of social media, explaining that it’s a space to shape their sense of self and find communities that will accept them. For them, selfies aren’t necessarily narcissistic, but self-portraits and a way to express creativity – adults have to “reimagine” selfies as a meaningful mode of self-representation and see them beyond the stereotypes they hold.

Another interview with various middle and high school students about what they wish their parents knew had them explaining that social media is a place for them to express their more extreme emotions, like anger and passion, and having a community to listen to them during those moments is reassuring.

Other things mentioned included having fake accounts beyond just their public profiles, social media being a place to practice creativity through outlets such as creative writing. Ultimately though, it seems that youths really want adults to know that social media is a place where they can be themselves and find those who are similar to them and experience the same thing to make them feel a little less alone.

This isn’t to say that adolescents see social media as perfect though. They’re aware that it can be addicting, they and their peers spend a lot of time on it, and it can feel incredibly shallow. Ultimately, adults should be aware that social media isn’t going to go away, it’s a part of life, and there’s a balance to be found. In order to have that conversation with their kids, however, it’s mostly important, according to youths, to not be awkward about it. 

What do you wish your parents knew about how you and/or people your age use social media? Do you think your own social media habits are reflective of the stereotypes often depicted by older generations?

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