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

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Share pictures/videos, etc. of youth or other identifying content on your social media without getting their consent (along with parent/guardian).
  1. Model how not to get caught up in excessive social media use or constant checking when spending time with them.
  1. 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.

Where to get help

The Bigger Picture

Social media has been woven into the fabric of our daily lives. As such, supporting youth in engaging in responsible use habits both with regards to themselves and towards others is an important aspect of supporting their overall development and wellbeing. To get a handle on the scope of social media use in teens today, a Pew Research Center report says:

24% of teens go online “almost constantly,” facilitated by the widespread availability of smartphones.

Aided by the convenience and constant access provided by mobile devices, especially smartphones, 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly,” according to a new study from Pew Research Center. More than half (56%) of teens — defined in this report as those ages 13 to 17 — go online several times a day, and 12% report once-a-day use. Just 6% of teens report going online weekly, and 2% go online less often.

Much of this frenzy of access is facilitated by mobile devices. Nearly three-quarters of teens have or have access to a smartphone and 30% have a basic phone, while just 12% of teens 13 to 17 say they have no cell phone of any type. African-American teens are the most likely of any group of teens to have a smartphone, with 85% having access to one, compared with 71% of both white and Hispanic teens. These phones and other mobile devices have become a primary driver of teen internet use: Fully 91% of teens go online from mobile devices at least occasionally. Among these “mobile teens,” 94% go online daily or more often. By comparison, teens who don’t access the internet via mobile devices tend to go online less frequently. Some 68% go online at least daily.

African-American and Hispanic youth report more frequent internet use than white teens. Among African-American teens, 34% report going online “almost constantly” as do 32% of Hispanic teens, while 19% of white teens go online that often.


From The Blog

The Chroncile of Evidence-based Mentoring

The Promise and Pitfalls of Mentoring in the Digital Age
Considering how widespread it is, it is somewhat alarming that there is not yet a uniform standard of best practice around social media in youth mentoring. Granted, many programs have wrestled with this issue, and we sought to determine how to update the Elements of Effective Practice  and the youth mentoring Code of Ethics to encompass the ever-expanding modes of connection. As societal concerns over children’s safety (e.g., solicitations and abduction and by strangers) have waned, new, subtler risks (and rewards) have come to light. Many fear that social media is undermining the next generation’s capacity for deep reflection, conversation, and sustained attention. At the same time, we are experiencing the many ways that these new forms of communication have improved and sustained bonds. Here is some advice about mentoring in the digital age!

The many benefits

Comfort and ease

Digital media has expanded the ways in which mentees can connect with their mentors. Yes, social media includes risks; but it also includes important opportunities for conversation and mentors must embrace mentees' channels of communication. In fact, many youth feel more comfortable texting than talking on the phone. They can do it while with a group of family members or friends without worrying about being overheard or judged, and can communicate painful emotions that they may be too embarrassed to raise in a verbal conversation. Likewise, text nudges, in which struggling students are "nudged" to enroll in school and complete requirements  are an evidence-based means of closing the educational inequality gaps struck such a chord.

Relationship maintenance

Interestingly, a recent survey showed that, to a certain extent, the more things change, the more things stay the same. New forms of social media are seen by mentors, not as a substitute for face-to-face relationship, but as a facilitator (much like a telephone). Texting and other forms of messaging with staff, mentees, and parents has vastly improved mentors' ability to schedule meetings, learn about changes in plans, and avoid the frustrations that can undermine planning and erode connection.

Expanded timetable

As we all know, young people’s disclosures about important topics don’t always fit neatly into the designated meeting time. Texting provides opportunities for them to raise issues, ask questions, and make disclosures to their mentors whenever the spirit moves them.  The mentor who receives such texts can, in a sense, “bookmark” them—responding briefly in the moment but returning to them during the meeting times. At the same time, a kind word or empathic response can become a "transitional object" for the mentee, a perennial boost of support to which they return when encouragement is needed.

The possible pitfalls

Unrealistic expectations

With social media habits, things could go awry: A youth disclosing something time sensitive over Facebook or texting something vitally important to their mentor, and receiving no response. This, in turn, could lead to hurtful or even dangerous lapses in the provision of timely support. Likewise, mentors may have good reasons to exclude their mentees from their Facebook pages, but the rejection (or simple ignoring) of friend requests can be hurtful to young people.  Staff and mentors are encouraged to set expectations and policies around social media at the onset of the relationship—before such lapses and requests.

Inappropriate public persona

It’s easy to see how problems might arise when mentees search the Internet and discover controversial information, opinions, or photos of their mentors.  Mentors are encouraged to occasionally  search the Internet and view themselves through the eyes of their mentees. To the extent possible, mentors should delete controversial public images and postings so as to protect the relationship. Overall, there is little evidence that social media is undermining intergenerational bonds. Just as there was once moral panic over books, the telephone, radio, and television, our fear that digital media will fray our social bonds and diminish our capacity for connection has been challenged by our everyday experiences with social media and the enriched opportunities for connection it has provided. We agreed that technology will never change the basic human need for connection or one's  sense of self in relationship. And, rather than passive recipients of new technologies, we will always be active consumers who decide how and when to use them. The challenge now will be to develop guidelines that are sufficiently flexible to encompass both their strengths and limitations.