There is no doubt that the advent of social media has excited understandable anxiety and palpable concerns amongst many households and families. This brain child of advanced technology has come with the good. the bad and the ugly. It is a case of any good thing also has its own bad side. It has come to underpin the longstanding saying that “the world has become a global village” through the instrumentality of various media of advanced communication technology.
Social media is “trending” not only among children but also the youth, adolescent the old adults; irrespective of sex and racial divide. The engagement of social media in all facets of communications is not only spreading like wild ﬁre but also getting increasingly “contagious “.
What is social media social?
Media are those computer-mediated tools that allow people or companies to create, share or exchange information, career interests, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks (Wikipedia.org). In fact. any website that allows social interaction is considered as a social media site. Such media sites include Facebook, Twitter. YouTube, MySpace, SecondLife, Linkedin. Blogs and gaming sites, to mention but a few.
Most of these internet driven websites contain proﬁle web pages of members that include their names or nicknames along with their photographs or any other personal or personality identifying information placed on such pages and linked to other proﬁle web pages of friends or associates on the social networking websites, according access to other members or visitors to the websites. They usually provide online services platform that focus on building and reﬂecting of social networks or social relations among people who share interests and/or activities.
Social media have so much pervaded and penetrated our way of life that they have become integrated part of life online, disrupting conventional social life yet, promoting another type of social life.
Beneﬁts of social media
Social media has a multiplicity of uses to children, the youngsters and the old adults. They are usefully engaged in socialization and communication, community engagement, staying connected with friends and families, discovering lost/old friends, making new friends, sharing pictures/albums, exchanging useful ideas, fostering individual identity and unique skills.
Social media are also deployed to enhanced learning opportunities like executing home works, group projects using blogs as teaching tools etc. A good number of people are known to depend on social media for access to health information.
Within the commercial world of today, social media is used for products marketing, brands promotion. connecting to new customers and fostering new business.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has documented in a recent poll (PEDIATRICS – April 2011. Vol. 127/Issue 4) that 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media sites more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to social media sites more than once a day. Also 75% of teenagers now own cell phones, and 20% use them for social media, 54% use them for texting, and 24% use them for instant messaging; thus, making the large part of this generation ‘s social and emotional development to occur on the internet and on cell phones.
In fact, given the rate at which new improvement in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) space is evolving with the passage of each day, social media will continue to be deployed to many more new uses for social interaction, interventions and online communication.
The downside of social media
However, the minus side of social media seems as weighty as its plus side, as it permeates and invades families and homes with its negative inﬂuences on children. youngsters and even adults. But because the youngsters are more digitally savvy and exposed to unreliable websites/sources and perhaps unable to correctly interpret certain information they have accessed; the danger of their exposure becomes hugely worrisome and poses understandable challenge to parents and guardians.
It is even more so for today’s adolescents who are presumed to be more promiscuous, more abusive of drugs and alcohol, more violent, self-absorbed and generally lacking in altruistic social values compared to the previous generations.
There are identiﬁable challenges from limited capacity of children and even some youth for self-r regulation, susceptibility to peer pressure and what has been described as frequent online expression of ofﬂine behaviors like cyberbullying, clique-forming as well as sexual experimentation including sexting — the act of sending and receiving sexually explicit or suggestive photos, images, messages, voicemails, or videos etc. Internet addiction, emotional depression and sleep deprivation also occupy the upper part of the ladder in social media challenges which parents are constrained to contend with at homes. In their social networking and navigation world, and the gradual internet addiction they begin to show tendency of avoidable ailments and depression.
According to the United States Federal Trade Communication (2010), children from ages 13 — 17 are heavy users of digital technology and new media applications. including social networking, mobile devices, instant messaging and ﬁle sharing. There is no doubt that the online world has not only changed their value system but more importantly changed the way and manner’ children learn both in the schools and at homes; the way they socialize with their parents and peer groups as well as the way they are entertained. There is also no doubt that their resort to and application of internet driven computer technologies and mobile phones is demonstrably pervasive and excite very negative inﬂuences on children.
A presentation at the 119’” annual convention of the American Psychological Association on “How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm our Kids” Larry D. Rosen observed that Facebook alone has altered the landscape of social interaction, particularly among young people. Teens that use Facebook more often show more of what he described as narcissistic tendencies (tendencies to overreact to periods of frustration resulting from self-obsession) while young adults who have a strong Facebook presence show more signs of other psychological disorders, including antisocial behaviours, mania and aggressive tendencies.
Fagorus (Punch Wed. May 4, 2016, p.15) informed that new research has shown that out of every 100 divorce case, 33 are partly caused by Facebook while several cases of hurts have also arisen from social media.
Following the same perspective, Rosen also found out that daily over use of media and technology has a negative effect on the health of all children, preteens and teenagers by making them more prone to anxiety, depression and other psychological disorders. Facebook is not only distracting but can negatively affect learning as college students who checked Facebook at least once during a 15 minutes study period were found to achieve lower grades.
It is common knowledge that some children and even adults have been killed by other people they met on social media, some have committed avoidable suicide after suffering from emotional trauma resulting from cyberbullying etc.
Parental concerns and coping strategy
The greatest concern of parents and guardians is what to do to protect their children and wards from the obvious risks and dangers of over exposure to social media.
Parents are bothered about how to control, restrict, moderate, possibly remove and stop the undue exposure of teenagers and youngsters to what has been generally perceived as the “horrible” inﬂuence of social media.
The concern of parents is quite a veritable concern given that teenage years are the most inﬂuential period of self-development in a person’s life and a stage in the circle of life in which children test models of conduct as they construct their personal lives.
The concern of parents is heightened by obvious lack of basic understanding of the new forms of social media communication by some of them while those who have the technical abilities seem not to have the time to keep pace with their children in the internet landscape.
Experts have noted that given above scenario, any attempt to restrict or remove this innate expression of freedom from children could be futile as it has the tendency to cause immediate retribution in the form of rebellion. This gives a sense of helplessness on the part of many parents and guardians.
In the face of all the noted challenges, parents are better advised not to lose hope but rather to brace up and face the concomitant fall out of the social media squarely as complacency or doing nothing will likely be more disastrous.
Parents owe it as a duty to positively intervene (Stephen Martha 2012) by learning to be abreast with new technologies and social media tools so as to enable them educate their children on how to present themselves each time they are on the social media.
Parents are expected to establish a friendly atmosphere in their homes which can enable their children open up and feel free to discuss issues bothering them particularly issues on social media networking.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly believe that pediatricians can help parents to cope by advising and emphasizing on the importance of supervising online activities via relationship and open communication with the child, parents can easily discuss with the child the need to remove offending and inappropriate content or connection to people who appear problematic. Real and threatening as the challenges may be, parents are expected to realize that social media networking has come to stay with the possibility of new improvements in its applications. The best thing is to learn how to live with it and adjust to the situational realities of our time, leverage on the huge beneﬁts of social media and manage the downside trajectory.
This article was originally published in the Nigeria Construction Digest Vol 1 No. 4 June 2016. Images from www,google.com