Teens will use social media and parents can guide them through it

Smart phones have become omnipresent among today’s teens. Only seven years ago, 41 percent of teens owned smart phones. Now, as many as 95 percent either own or have access to one. Among these, 45 percent of teens now say they are online almost constantly. There’s no denying the digital life of teens.

This digital world holds much promise with powerful tools for communication and creation. At the same time, it generates significant concern among parents. Even as we adults are learning this rapidly changing environment (as best we can), we need to help youth safely navigate it and find balance.

Teens spend a lot of their online time on social networks such as YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. In 2012, 34 percent of youth used social media more than once a day, that number has doubled over the last seven years. And while Facebook was the dominant site in 2012, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are now the favorites among teens.

Parents can become familiar with the social media platforms their children use by downloading and using them. The familiarity will allow parents to open discussion on what’s new on Snapchat, Instagram, etc. Moreover, parents can build from this if they’re able to share photos and feeds.

They can also help by talking with their teens about the social media sites they frequent and helping them evaluate how they feel about their use. They can get them to share what’s good, not so good and could be changed about their experience. If a friend or topic is causing anxiety, people can be blocked, and threads muted.

All parents are concerned with cyberbullying, but the reality is it has become less common. Unfortunately hate speech is on the rise. Almost two-thirds of teens reported coming across racist, homophobic, sexist or religious-based hate online. This creates an opportunity for parents to talk with their children about the good and bad on the internet. Teens can practice how to respectfully and constructively disagree with others. They can be encouraged to support people who have been maligned — without getting pulled into ugly disputes.

More than half of teens surveyed said that social media takes them way from personal relationships and becomes a distraction from the people they’re spending time with. Parents can help by modeling polite phone behavior; giving others their full attention. They can also set up screen-free times such as during homework and dinner. It can be healthy for everyone to go phone-free for a while, too.

Overall, studies show social media can help teenagers make friends and keep them. While American teens may have fewer friends than past generations of teens, they report being less lonely. Teens describe feeling less isolated and becoming more socially skilled, in part because of increased technology use.

But social media only makes up one part of a healthy relationship with technology. Teens still need to connect with their peers and others in-person. Programs such as 4-H create opportunities where youth can share common interests and learn valuable skills in-person. 4-H allows youth to develop personal networks that include peers, older and younger youth, as well as adults. When teens can interact in-person and use social media responsibly they’re able to grow and achieve balance.