Social Media/Media Literacy: Responsible Use
Over 70% of youth report use of social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and the list of possible platforms continues to expand. The majority of youth report using more than one social media platform. Social media use, and internet use more generally, is a typical part of most youths’ daily lives. Supporting them in responsible use and navigation of various platforms is important for any supportive adults in their lives.
What to do
Here are some ways you can support the youth in your life to engage in responsible social media use:
- Help youth to build up empathy and perspective-taking skills both offline and online. This can empower them to practice good decision-making online, for example taking time to consider how something they post online might be hurtful, respectfully sharing a difference of opinion in a comment, etc.
Talk about safety and privacy online, and ways that youth can protect themselves
- Privacy, including their social media account settings, as well as their process for who gets access to their page/who doesn’t. Have conversations about what their process is for accepting/not accepting friend requests, etc. These explicit conversations can increase awareness about the importance of privacy, and also support/strengthen good decision-making.
- They can always block/unfriend, and also report, individuals who make you uncomfortable. For example, individuals who make inappropriate sexual comments, are aggressive, or bullying them.
- Be mindful of what they share in terms of personal information (e.g., sensitive information that if on a piece of paper you lost offline you would be concerned about someone else finding). Also, excessively sharing things like location tags, especially for places like your house, places you frequent often, etc.)
- The permanence of a social media/internet record. While things can be deleted, once posted, there are ways for comments, images, etc. that we post to follow us in the long-term. Once posted, we have no control over where they may end up. For example, sexually explicit images/videos, harassing comments, compromising information about yourself or another person, etc., have consequences socially, legally, etc.
- Taking online relationships with individuals that they don’t know offline. While most youth are not interacting with individuals they don’t know offline (e.g., research suggests that most youth use social media to keep up with friendships/relationships that exist offline), sometimes, youth connect with peers on social media who share similar interests (e.g., gaming community, etc.). An adult needs to be involved if these relationships are taken offline to ensure safety.
Encourage balanced use of social media:The pressure of being constantly connected, which has become more of a challenge with the constant access to social media that smartphones provide, can become stressful. A lot of youth report feeling the need to stay constantly connected for fear of missing out (also known as FOMO), which can be associated with depression and anxiety. In addition, being constantly connected or feeling the need to be connected can affect sleep, for example if youth are sleeping with their phones. Getting social media notifications/alerts throughout the night can be disruptive to quality sleep.
- Support practices of “unplugging”, “digital detox”, or taking time away from social media where you don’t access any social media. For example evening hours/bedtime, as well as periodic “unplugging” for longer durations (e.g., weekends or a certain number of days).
- Help youth to have greater awareness and control of their social media consumption. For example, removing social media apps from your smartphone and only accessing them from a computer can help with regulating access because it’s often not as easily accessible as refreshing on your smartphone. There are also apps available that help with managing time limits regarding social media access.
Encourage youth to maintain offline relationships.Online and offline exchanges provide different types of social connection. In person time is important for support and emotional wellbeing. Encourage youth to have a balance rather than to neglect face-to-face time spent with important people in their lives, in lieu of online interactions.
Support self-esteem nurtured through offline activities and interests.Be on the lookout for potential online injuries to youths’ self-esteem. There is an element of social media that involves posing and curating, even among adults. People often present ideal versions of their lives. Youth may feel pressure to present a false self online or keep up a certain image. Similarly, they may also make comparisons to their peers that leave them feeling negatively about self.
Be aware of cyberbullying and some of the potential signs of who might be bullying or getting bullied online including sudden changes in their use of social media.
Encourage positive aspects of social media such as connecting with like-minded peers around a special/niche interest
Open up conversations about challenges with use, cyberbullying, etc. that may be coming.Offer support to empower youth to talk to parents and other adults, or seek out help if they are struggling or in distress. If connected/friends with youth online, notice cryptic posts/images that may be indicative of struggle.
What not to do
- Follow youth online without their consent/knowledge. For instance, if youth has social media page/account that is public (i.e., doesn’t require a “request” before people can view content), don’t spend time on their page/account without letting them know. Doing so creates situations where you might learn something about them that they were not ready to share with you, or it creates a monitoring/prying/trust issue that may weaken your relationship.
- Agree to connect with youth via social media without consideration of what your page/account and activity on social media look like. While some social media allows for settings where you can filter your page out by group so that certain people only see certain content on your page or to share content with subsets of people, it’s important to consider what type of image you’re presenting online.
- Share pictures/videos, etc. of youth or other identifying content on your social media without getting their consent (along with parent/guardian).
- Model how not to get caught up in excessive social media use or constant checking when spending time with them.
- Dismiss or minimize concerns they raise about experiences on social media, no matter how benign the concerns may seem. Instances of cyberbullying may start off with something that appears minor before escalating.