Tamika: Hello, my name is Tamika Gilchrist, substance youth prevention specialist at the Poe Center for Health Education in Raleigh.
Virginia: Hi, my name is Virginia Johnson. I’m the substance use prevention director at the Poe Center for Health Education in Raleigh
T: What are teens using on social media? What sites are they using?
V: Well, what’s more important than what they’re using. It’s not what what other teens are using, it’s what your child is using and it’s so important for parents to understand what is their child doing. What channels are they on? How are they communicating with their friends? How are they using those channels? Because every child is different and they’re gonna be on this channel with this group of friends and that channel with that group of friends, but talk with them help, empower them to be smart users and one of the things you want to do is when you know what your child is on, see who they follow. See who they like. Are they following certain celebrities? It’s probably good to as parents follow those same celebrities, so we can see, “huh what is our our child interested in?” What’s motivating them? What are they being influenced by? Understand what’s going on in their world a little bit more. It’s a great way to connect and open up a door for conversation.
Again we don’t want to be afraid of social media. It is the way people are communicating today. We want to keep it with setting clear expectations and guidelines and boundaries with it, but it is another tool for communication and like any tool for communication, it can be used for good and can be used for bad. So it can be a great way to be able to open the door and talk with our teens. They may be uncomfortable talking to you about their day but maybe they can chat and text you about their day. Maybe they can communicate with you how they’re feeling with emojis if not in person and it’s actually a great tool to open up communication and dialogue sometimes in a different way. I talked about how do we help our youth use social media safely and understand. There is one thing: they’re watching us and they’re modeling what we do and so there are some times we get frustrated when we’re driving down the road and we have Waze or someone is talking to us, we have this person the phone who’s giving us directions we will get frustrated at and we yell at it or it might be where Alexa we’re mad at Alexa and we yelled at Alexa for telling us information or there’s something going on our phones. For us that’s a different place like, “oh, I would never yell at another human that way” or even talking degrading to another human that way but I might talk and degrade the machine.
Well, for a lot of our kids, they’ve never known a world without using our smartphones without using these devices to communicate. That’s how they communicate with their grandparents, how they communicate with their friends so they don’t necessarily realize that we don’t talk to other people that way because to them it’s all the same. If I’m talking to the phone it’s just like talking to the human being and so if we have to really model that behavior where it can actually be taken that this is an okay way to act and talk to the others by.
T: So how does social media impact the adolescent brain?
V: What’s fascinating about our brains is whenever we get rewarded when we do good things, right? Our brain releases a chemical called dopamine that makes us feel good and that’s how our brain motivates us to do something more and more and more. What happens though is social media is actually releasing dopamine in our brains. It’s encouraging us to do this more but we’re getting rewarded for things like if we get a like or someone shares our posts, we get engagement on social media. We’re getting rewarded for that social connection and behavior and it’s releasing dopamine which makes us really like it and as we’re getting rewarded for selfies, we’re getting rewarded for talking about ourselves. Especially in the adolescent brain which is still developing our teenagers are really getting where they want more and more of this too, and you’re seeing them on social media for long periods of time and not being able to break away from it.
Sometimes it’s actually interrupting their sleep and so what happens with the brain development, our adolescents need a lot of sleep anywhere between 9 to 11 hours of sleep at night and now if they’re if they’re wanting to see “hey did someone see my post? What’s that latest engagement? Hmm, did someone do this yet?” They want to be the first to respond to something and they’re actually checking social media throughout the night. It’s interrupting their sleep patterns which when you interrupt your sleep patterns that opens up the door to a whole host of additional things that can happen. It decreases your ability to make healthy decisions, it decreases your ability to process what’s happening around you, it actually can increase likelihood of mental health issues, affects your mental wellness, and affects your ability to just perform.
T: So what are some of the dangers for teens on social media?
V: When it comes to social media, social media is here to stay. Social media is something, is how we do everything in our life now. It’s how we communicate, it’s how we shop, it’s how we do business, it’s how we connect with our friends. Social media is here to stay, but with that too as with everything and there’s dangers in that there’s positives and there’s negatives it’s what’s important is to teach our youth how to use social media effectively, how to set boundaries with that. Some of the dangers if it’s not being used effectively and it’s not and people don’t realize what’s going on can really occur, we mentioned before interferes with your sleep patterns. Not getting enough sleep, it really it opens up the doors for people to engage in behaviors they would normally engage in.
So when I’m sitting here face to face with someone when you’re sitting face to face, you don’t want to make that person feel bad about themselves, you don’t want to ask them to do something that might get them injured or harmed. Our conscience says “hey I don’t want to hurt you” but when you’re on social media, you’re a little bit disconnected from that you don’t see that person you’re chatting with, don’t see the person you’re talking to, and so that it’s easier to say mean things about someone. That’s where we see cyberbullying increases. Sometimes I could say things on social media about you that I would never say to your face. It also increases likelihood of maybe even peer pressure changes you mean ask somebody to do something that you would never do in person, but may ask them to online because there’s a little bit of that disconnect that opens the door for that to happen. That can also that disconnect can help us be more comfortable speaking out loud and there are some ways that can be very helpful for us and be a positive aspect but can also be taken to negative side as well.
When it comes to that being not being afraid to say things too you’re seeing an increase, I mentioned the cyberbullying but also with sexting. Where someone may show pictures of themselves or talk about things in a way. Adolescents they’re sharing things that they never would have shared otherwise. You may not want to be intimate with this person, be intimate with someone in person, but it seems safe on our phones, it seems safe over the internet and they may show intimate sides they may not have normally have done. Also people are asking for it. Where maybe a person never would say “hey!”, would ask for a sexual something in return in person but online they would. They’re getting an increases to that that disconnect and opens the door for people asking for more things and then also giving more things they wouldn’t have done in person.
Social media is the whole way we function in the world today and has opened the door for whether it’s for marketing and promotions and it’s access. When it comes to social media our youth are online, again this helps in teaching them to be smart consumers but when their online it makes them very easy targets for whether it’s alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and any other substance or activity we may not want our youth involved in. They’re easy targets for that for marketing promotions, ads, campaigns. They’re being bombarded. It’s so easy to target by demographic, by age, by interest, and our teenagers are prime targets for getting ads for things we wouldn’t normally want them to be seeing so things they might be bombarded with are Juul ads or alcohol ads or marijuana ads that we may be online as well we would never see them because we’re not the target as the parent but our teens are the target and they may be seeing these ads and they’ve looked very different. There is actually a lot of prevention things in place that actually limit the number of alcohol ads that could be out there, tobacco ads that are out there. They’re limited on billboards on where they can be placed, they’re limited on TV ads and magazine ads, but they’re not limited on social media. There’s so many ways around it, so they’re getting a lot more access to ads than we might normally see but it’s not just ads themselves. It’s also access to buy, so it’s very easy for our teens to buy things to look and say “hey, where do I find this? Where I find that too?” or being offered to buy things that are substances through social media channels.
T: So now I want to know how can family support healthy social media use?
V: So healthy social media use and healthy internet use is really important. One thing we talk a lot about is a lot of parents assume our children, they’ve been born and raised with technology and they know how to go in and out of our apps and in and out of everything and set up all of our technology for us and they really know how to navigate social media well; however just because we understand technology and we’re born with it and we’re native to it, doesn’t mean we’re digitally literate so it’s really important to make sure our youth are savvy Internet users. They understand internet security, they understand the dangers in social media and internet use, and they understand how to be safe and use it effectively.
Some of the things we want to talk about with that with internet safety use is we want to talk about never posting personal information. We shouldn’t have our location finders on. Other people shouldn’t be able to find us. Making sure that you never meet someone that you’ve only met online. We find this is something for youth being propositioned like “hey, come meet me somewhere”. They can set up opportunity for things to go wrong, and we find where this happens with young boys and young girls tends to vary a little bit. With our young gentlemen it happens to be more in video games. He has so many video games where they’re chatting and they’re talking through Xbox, they’re talking through their online games and it’s like “hey, I can meet you here and I can share more tips for how to level up in a game” and then it’s just a way to connect and youth don’t even think about it. If you have a son who’s like “hey, meet me here. I can give you more gear for your game and you can level up.” They jump on it. They’re not thinking about the dangers or risk that might be associated with that.
It’s also important to teach them how to understand if there is rude or mean or cyber bullying going on or rude text happening, it’s important to help talk to our youth about that and say “hey, let’s not respond to rude texts. Don’t respond. Do not engage online in conversations and discussions and arguments. Ignore them and get rid of them.” Really empower them. It’s important to speak up and tell somebody if you’re being bullied talked to someone, share it, so it’s important to tell a trusted adult if you need to and if someone is bothering you, if someone’s harassing you, to block them. It’s important to block them and sometimes that’s hard for our teenagers to block something, because then they’re gonna hate that I don’t know what’s going on. I’m out of the conversation, out of the loop. It’s important to have that conversation.
It’s important to understand the privacy settings on our social media sites and how to set them and not everybody needs to see everything. It’s also important to teach our youth that nothing is truly private if it’s online. If it’s digital and there’s a digital footprint, it can be found. So just because it’s private, doesn’t mean it’s private and that we shouldn’t be posting anything on social media that we don’t want our grandma and our teacher and our boss to see. It should not be online. It’s also never posting passwords or never sharing passwords with anyone even though it’s all “it’s only for a second for them to get into your phone.” For a friend to do something, I lost my check in to your social media account and look at something. It’s really important to really teach the value of never showing those passwords because they can open the door up for other things to happen. Disabling your location finders and not telling people where you’re at. If you go on vacation, that’s great. You’re taking all these great vacation pics. Post them once you get back and not where you are step by step and letting people know where you are and what you’re doing.
The difference between digital native and digital literate is really teaching them and understanding what are the true dangers and benefits in the digital world around them and how to use it effectively. One of those things is being a fact-checker. It’s like just because you see it online doesn’t mean it’s true and that’s one of where a lot of our teens get themselves in trouble is. They believe everything they see online so having conversations of how do we know this is true information, and number one is to double-check everything. Instead of reading an article, we should actually read it, question it, and then go see if we can find another place that article is. Look for other information. We talk about something called reading laterally and that’s where if you click on an article, and you’re reading about it, open up another tab and once you open up the other tab and then actually kind of go to those cited sources, see if you can find that information elsewhere, double-check your sources, and then realize that if you google something, the first thing that pops up doesn’t mean it’s the most valid. It doesn’t mean it’s the most it’s the best place for your resource. So look for trusted sites, look for sites that are the .gov sites, the .edu sites, especially if you’re looking for information about substances. There’s a lot of myths out, there’s a lot of false information especially around marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol. In general just do not trust the information that comes up there first. Don’t click on anything that you see and then avoid sharing files over social media instant messaging as well.
T: So this is all great information. I appreciate the information. I do want to see if you can share a resourceful site that parents can get information if they’re looking for those trusted websites
V: One of the great places to go to is Common Sense Media. So when you go to Common Sense Media, it really does they are updating it on a daily basis I think, so you have Common Sense Media, it can actually type in any type of media. Whether it’s a social media channel, it could be a movie, it could be a song, and it’ll actually give you kind of the rating for that and why they’re rating it that way, and where they recommend the age to be on that site. So it might be they were giving it for age 12 and up, or 17 and up, but it also tells you why. It might be the language or the content or the violence. It gives you an idea on the social media channels, it does a really good job of how that site is used, both the good and the bad. So if a new social media channel is there you haven’t heard of before, you heard your child is using it or your child’s talking about it with their friends, you can kind of go see how it’s being used and how it can be misused.
T: So how important do you think is youth input when you are implementing family contracts and rules within the family?
V: Excellent, so family contracts are really important. One thing when we talk about other ways a family can prevent or families can help really their youth understand how to be really social media smart consumers when it comes to social media, is having very clear guidelines and expectations for how we use social media and some of those are actually having a family contract. One thing that’s interesting is the number one thing our youth look up to is their parents. They model our parents, they model our good habits and model our bad habits, so as parents we need to be ones that are modeling responsible use with our phones and with our social media use and online. Then as we’re modeling that too, is having a contract for these are the things that we are going to do and not going to do as a family and those contracts may include no phones at the dinner table and if that’s going to be part of your contract is no phones at the dinner table, that needs to be for everybody not just the youth. Having things like maybe there’s no phones after nine o’clock. We talked about how social media impacts our sleep patterns and because we have our phones and it’s interrupting our sleep so one of the rules that might be for your family is there’s no phones after nine o’clock or no phones after eight o’clock and all phones in the house have to have to be charged in a single location to help with that.
It’s important to also talk with youth when you’re talking about your family contracts and how you’re looking at social media of you know at every age is a little different. You know your rules for your 10 year old may be very different than rules for your 17 year old and having your youth be a part of that conversation and what makes sense for having responsible guidelines is really important and what makes sense your family because we know we have to use this a lot of times for their sports team, for the classes, they have to use social media. So social media isn’t evil, it’s not bad, it just needs to be used responsibly and setting guidelines for that is so important.
Some of the things that we talk about is understanding that there’s a difference between privacy and secrecy. So wanting to have a private conversation with your friend is one thing but trying to hide and be secret and using a secret app to hide conversations is another story. So having conversations between the difference between privacy and secrecy with your teenagers are so important and where those are. As parents, you want to respect privacy but secrecy is maybe not something we want to allow and when it comes to our social media use and in the family. As parents you want to make sure that we are maximizing those opportunities around so talk to your cell phone carriers, find out what your family plans can do. There’s a lot of plans out there where you know you have you know two people on the plan or the lead plan owners and any other people in the plan if they want to download an app, if they want to do anything, they have to get permission. So you’re going to learn that “hey, my son has requested this game” and then you have a chance to look up the game, look it up on Common Sense Media, it’s rated for what age, what’s included in it, and then you can download it. The social media channel is something that, oh, it’s used for this and that, and maybe before you approve it, you have a conversation for how’s he using this type of channel with their friends and things like that.