We were blown away by the research and great advice shared by Robin Coaches Sara Kaviar and Anastasia Vlasova during the Social Media & Adolescents webinar. Read the key takeaways below or watch the recording here.
We hear a lot about the negatives of social media. Can you share some positives from your perspective?
Sara: I see many positives. For one, students can tap into a wide variety of information such as learning about different career paths. They can also use social media to connect with like-minded people that they may not have access to in their local community. I’m a parent of a 23 year old who regularly uses social media to connect with people that are interested in the same things that she’s interested in.
Anastasia: The last social media account that I had, I deleted back in senior year of high school. However, I do want to acknowledge that, like Sara said, there are some positive aspects to social media. I’ve interviewed numerous young people on the “Our Turn to Talk” podcast. For them, social media is a great source of connection, especially if they feel people in their local community don’t share their mutual interests. I also think social media can be a great source of creative inspiration and a creative outlet for people who are interested in photography or art.
Was there a specific catalyst for you to get off of social media Anastasia? How has that affected connection in your life being in college today?
Anastasia: I deleted social media because, going into college, I had the goal of making social connections authentically. I wanted to put myself out there, out of my comfort zone, and meet people in person. I also realized that social media can be a massive waste of time.
I found myself getting distracted or sucked into the abyss of infinite scrolling during times where I wish I’d spent drawing or learning or reading or talking to people in real life.
In high school, I had experimented with digital detoxes, which were just little breaks that I took from social media. While on a digital detox, I found myself feeling far less anxious and much more focused on my in-person hobbies. Now that I’ve been off social media for a while, I’ve found that my connections have actually gotten far stronger. It’s forced me to make friends in real life and understand what a meaningful friendship is. I learned what qualities and values to seek out in other people and how I want to portray myself. Rather than curating my feed online, I started to invest much more time in curating my actual real self. I am now much more comfortable in real-life social interactions and my social anxiety has decreased. My overall sense of mindfulness and ability to focus on assignments and a variety of other things have significantly improved since deleting social media.
Sara, can you share some of those social media statistics with us and your thoughts around some of these trends?
Sara: We’re seeing a trend in teens having less face-to-face interactions and not doing things that connect them to others like joining sports teams or even getting their driver’s licenses. Infinite scrolling, which is your ability to keep consuming content infinitely, is keeping your attention on screen for far longer and the time that all ages spend online is increasing significantly. The American Academy of Pediatricians is starting to look at what constitutes different types of screen time and what that does to young people.
If you’re looking at social media right now, girls are the heaviest users. That doesn’t mean that boys are spending less time online but boys tend to use technology in other ways like playing video games. Time spent online is different depending on socioeconomic status and age too.
What’s most alarming to me is to look at the heaviest users who are on technology more than five hours a day – above and beyond school hours.
30% of girls and 13% of boys are on screens for more than 5 hours a day.
The heaviest users are most likely online while doing their school work. We know that there’s no such thing as multitasking; it’s continuous partial attention. And so if you’re on social media at the same time as you’re doing something else like homework, you’re not going to be very effective with what you’re doing.
Excessive online use is also affecting healthy habits crucial for development like quality sleep. We’re seeing an alarming decline in the amount of sleep people are getting over the last 10 years.
Anastasia, with your friends who are on social media, do you see any differences in their self esteem or confidence levels?
Anastasia: I certainly do. I think it’s really interesting witnessing who my friends and people are in real life versus the image of themselves that they portray on social media. Many times a person’s Instagram feed doesn’t match their real life personality.
From my experience on social media, the more time we spend on it the less of a fundamental unshakable self-confidence we have because we give that power of our self-perception, of our self worth to other people instead of deriving it from within.
I personally have a much more stable level of self-confidence since deleting social media because I no longer rely on that fluctuating external validation that’s largely a product of or dependent on the algorithm.
What is your advice to those parents and educators as these kids get really excited to get a phone?
Sara: Well, it really depends on the age of the child. I advise our parents at my school to resist it as long as possible. I usually recommend they have their child work digitally in a public area like the kitchen or the living room – never in their bedrooms – so that they can cast a glance over what they’re child is doing.
But by the time they’re in middle school, they’re going to want a phone. My advice to parents is to establish rules in the beginning. I also recommend getting involved! See what it is that’s interesting to your child. Go online and play some of the games that your child is playing and watch some of the things that your child watches.
This helps to establish trust and connection so that your child can come to you as a parent or as a teacher when they see something disturbing or want advice on how to handle something online.
You want those clear lines of communication open so they feel comfortable doing that. Students need to learn what their own limits are. The best way to support that is with a really solid parent-child or teacher-student relationship.
Anastasia, what would you tell your 13 year old self about how to handle social media? What would you tell parents of teenagers?
Anastasia: I’ll start with the parents of teenagers. I think one thing that’s really important for parents to keep in mind is that your children are watching the things that you do, so be a good role model in terms of digital wellness. Be intentional and conscious of your own tech use. Tech addiction and social media addiction are not just limited to young people. Are you checking your phone when you’re talking to your kids? Are you using social media as a way to cope or distract yourself? If so, your children are probably picking up on that and getting signals that it’s an appropriate thing to do.
Sara: That’s a great point Anastasia. I can’t even tell you too how many students I’ve talked to that have reported feeling sad because they can’t get their parents’ attention. When they’re being picked up from school, many report that their parents are on their phone while driving and not listening to how their kid’s day went. I don’t think parents quite realize that time is a great opportunity to connect with your child.
Anastasia: As for the adolescents who are listening out there. I think it’s really important to understand what your intention is when you’re opening up a social media app. Ask yourself: Why am I using this right now? And if it’s to distract yourself, ask, why am I trying to distract myself? Am I experiencing anxiety or self-critical thoughts? Am I trying to procrastinate?
If you identify the real reason you’re turning to social media, more often than not you’ll find that you’re using it to escape reality for a second and that’s not always the best solution.
So perhaps that moment of self-reflection will prompt you to not actually use the app and instead deal with whatever you’re going through in a healthier manner.
My relationship with social media has changed a lot over the years. When I first downloaded Instagram, I also launched a second account which was this fitness tennis health blog. I was living through my little “influencer life”, as much as you can in middle school, posting photos of healthy recipes and videos of me playing tennis. I ended up partnering with the United States Tennis Association and Wilson to promote their products and the game of tennis.
That was when my tech usage was probably at its most toxic because I was on the app every single day and very much influenced by fitness influencers around the platform. That contributed to my really negative body image and a series of toxic relationships with food and fitness. If I were to tell my 13 year old self anything it’s to remember that what you see online isn’t reality. So many of those photos and videos are edited.
Ultimately your adolescent years are a very critical developmental stage and an opportunity for you to develop healthy habits that will shape who you become in the future.
I deleted social media because I realized that it doesn’t fit into the lifestyle that I personally want to have, which is one oriented around health, balance, fitness, quality sleep and fulfilling relationships.
I would highly encourage other young people to think about who they want to be when they grow up, what kind of person they want to be, the habits they want to have and the lifestyle they want to live.
What is the role of school leadership here? Should they be teaching educators how to teach this in the classroom?
Sara: We’re expecting schools to do a lot. But I do think we have to teach life skills and this is a life skill. One of the things that we should do is give them an inside look at how everything works. What is an algorithm? What is an influencer? This way they’re not as susceptible to believing the things that they see.
We have to teach how to read the world and how to read technology as well. You can’t just give children the keys to the car and let them experiment; you really have to teach them not just the rules but also what to watch out for.
I think schools are also a pretty good place to teach students coping strategies for when they see something disturbing or start to doubt themselves. How do they handle that? We tell them to go to a trusted adult of course but I think that as they get older it’s important for them to learn the difference between a bystander and an upstander, for example.
Anastasia, what are you hearing from students about social media? Are there more people like you out there talking about spending less time on it or deleting it altogether?
Anastasia: Most of the people who I’m closest to share similar values as I do so they also tend to be off social. My best friend is off social media as well and rarely checks the phone while we’re hanging out. I think that just sets the tone for other social interactions that we have. We lead by example, modeling this digital wellness. My immediate circle also shares a similar mindset in that we prefer more analog means of doing things, living in the moment and maximizing whatever real world experience we’re having.
There is mass acknowledgment that social media is bad for our mental health and we would probably be so much better off if we decrease our usage of it or if we entirely deleted it, but for some reason there’s this hesitation to do that.
I think it’s because my generation has grown up with this thing that gives us so much validation, that provides us with so much entertainment and temporary fleeting fulfillment that we can’t imagine ourselves having the grit or discipline or resilience to not have it.
Sara, what do you think about contracts for establishing technology boundaries with parent-child or even teacher-student?
Having a tech contract at your house is an excellent idea. Some of the things you should include are time limits or location limits, aka tech-free areas.
And at the same time, the parent side of the contract stipulates that you don’t freak out if something happens, if your child has explored something, for example. You agree to sit down, not overreact and just talk to them about it. We know that when you provide extreme limitations on a child they’re going to find a way around it. So mutually creating a contract like this is a good idea.
How do we gain parent buy-in to keep phones at home or in lockers?
Anastasia: I’ve been doing a lot of parent interviews regarding children’s tech usage and overall media exposure for my internship this semester. I’ve gathered that a lot of parents feel pressure because their friends are giving their kids phones; I think that it could be helpful to gather with some close friends or other parents at your child’s school and discuss the long-term goals you have for your kids. Do you want them to be healthy, mindful human beings? If so, that is all going to be influenced by the social media and tech habits that they start with very early on in their life. It’s really important to understand that limiting your child’s tech usage or going about it very intentionally is ultimately an investment in their long-term well-being, happiness and mental and physical health.
Any tips for handling cyber bullying?
Sara: Always go to a trusted adult, that’s number one. It’s also important to teach kids how to just to to turn it off and to ignore it. It can be helpful to process it with a person that you know and trust
Anastasia: Yeah, that’s a tough one. I definitely would agree with going to a trusted adult because ultimately there’s not much you can do other than try to separate yourself as far as you can from the source of bullying.
I also just wanted to add that a lot of young people who recently joined social media have this misconception that being an influencer is a really glamorous, easy and lucrative job.
In reality, there’s a lot out there about the deteriorating mental health of many social media influencers because it does take a toll having a career based solely on this external validation, this constant need to produce content and publicize your life.
It gets really exhausting and it’s not as stable of a career path financially either because algorithms are constantly changing. I think putting that into perspective and really highlighting the pros and cons of pursuing that career path is important.
Thanks so much for joining us today. Any parting thoughts that you’d like to share with the audience?
Anastasia: I just want to emphasize that whether you’re the parent of a young person or you are a young person yourself listening to this:
Just remember that you really do only get one life. Take a step back and think about how you want to spend it.
What kind of things, activities, hobbies, interests, relationships will lead to a sense of fulfillment and happiness. How do you want to grow as a person and what can you do on a daily basis to contribute to that? I think something that was really helpful in my experience with deleting social media was not thinking of it as a loss from my life or as though I was missing out on anything. Instead I viewed it as an investment in myself, which would ultimately result in meaningful friendships, new character skills like focus and mindfulness and all of these other things that ultimately adds so much value to my life.
I thought of it as a gain rather than a loss. I think that change in perspective can also make the deleting or minimizing your social media use seem much more feasible and enjoyable.
Sara: I speak to parents and teachers a lot so I often hear “I’m just not as adept at technology as my students or my child.”
The thing I’d love to convey is your values – integrity, honesty – are your values regardless of the platform.
And so I would say don’t be intimidated by what you think is some superior ability with technology on the part of your child or your students. It’s just a tool and how they use that tool should be in line with your set of values.