Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids

Psychology Today

Tween’ brains are simply too immature to use social media wisely.

This guest post is by Melanie Hempe, RN, founder of Families Managing Media

interstid/Shutterstock
Source: interstid/Shutterstock

I really love middle school kids. I have two of them! If you have been through middle-school parenting, you may have noticed what I see: Strange things seem to happen to a tween’s brain the first day they walk into middle school.

One might sum up their main goals in life this way:

  • To be funny at all costs. (Hence, the silly bathroom jokes, talking at inappropriate times in class, and the “anything it takes to be popular” attitude.)
  • To focus on SELF — their clothes, their nose, their body, and their hair.
  • To try new things. They are playing “dress up” with their identity, trying on things to see what fits. They are impulsive and scattered, they are up and they are down, and it even seems that they have regressed in their development on their quest for independence.

As the parent, you are changing, too, as you enter the stage of parenting when you quickly depart from the naïve platform of “My child would never…” to the realization that, “I’m sure my child did that. I’m sorry, and please excuse his behavior, he is going through a phase.”

Your list of daily parenting instruction may include statements like:

  • “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!”
  • “How many times do I have to tell you not the use that word?”
  • “Stop flipping that bottle!”
  • “Stop burping the ABC’s!”
  • “You’re acting like a two-year-old.”
  • “What were you thinking?”

Then it happens: Maybe because we are exhausted from their constant begging for a phone, or because we think that all their friends have one, or because we want to upgrade ours to the latest model…we cave. We act on impulse. Our brain seems to regress like theirs, and we give them our old smartphone.

And with that one little decision comes the world of social media access—something we haven’t thought about and something none of us is prepared for. Because the midbrain is reorganizing itself and risk-taking is high and impulse control is low, I can’t imagine a worse time in a child’s life to have access to social media than middle school. Here are just a few reasons why:

  1. Social media was not designed for them. A tween’s underdeveloped frontal cortex can’t manage the distraction nor the temptations that come with social media use. While you start teaching responsible use of tech now, know that you will not be able to teach the maturity that social media requires. Like trying to make clothes fit that are way too big, they will use social media inappropriately until they are older and it fits them better.
  2. Social media is an entertainment technology. It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job; nor is it necessary for healthy social development. It is pure entertainment attached to a marketing platform extracting bits and pieces of personal information and preferences from your child every time they use it, not to mention hours of their time and attention.
  3. A tween’s “more is better” mentality is a dangerous match for social media. Do they really have 1,456 friends? Do they really need to be on it nine hours a day? Social media allows (and encourages) them to overdo their friend connections like they tend to overdo other things in their lives.
  4. Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment. And, like video game addiction, early use can set up future addiction patterns and habits.
  5. Social media replaces learning the hard social “work” of dealing face-to-face with peers, a skill that they will need to practice to be successful in real life.
  6. Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family and instead view “friends” as their foundation. Since the cognitive brain is still being formed, the need for your teen to be attached to your family is just as important now as when they were younger. Make sure that attachment is strong. While they need attachments to their friends, they need healthy family attachment more.
  7. Social media use represents lost potential for teens. While one can argue that there are certain benefits of social media for teens, the costs are very high during the teen years when their brain development is operating at peak performance for learning new things. It is easy for teens to waste too much of their time and too much of their brain in a digital world. We know from many studies that it is nearly impossible for them to balance it all.

How Can Kids Slow Down?

First, we need to slow down and rethink what we are allowing our kids to do. We need to understand the world of social media and how teens use it differently from adults. Here are a few tips that work well for many parents.

  1. Delay access. The longer parents delay access, the more time a child will have to mature so that he or she can use technology more wisely as a young adult. Delaying access also places a greater importance on developing personal authentic relationships first.
  2. Follow their accounts. Social media privacy is a lie: Nothing is private in the digital world, and so it should not be private to parents. Make sure privacy settings are in place but know that those settings can give you a false sense of security. Encourage your teen to have private conversations in person or via a verbal phone call instead if they don’t want you to read it on social media.
  3. Create family accounts. Create family accounts instead of individual teen accounts. This allows kids to keep up with friends in a safer social media environment.
  4. Allow social media only on large screens. Allow your teens to only use their social media accounts on home computers or laptops in plain view, this way they will use it less. When it is used on a small private phone screen they can put in their pocket there are more potential problems with reckless use.  The more secret the access, the more potential for bad choices.
  5. Keep a sharp eye on the clock; they will not. Do you know how much time your child spends on social media a day? Be aware of this, and reduce the amount of time your child is on social media across all platforms. The average teen spends nine hours a day connected to social media. Instead, set one time each day for three days a week for your child to check their social media. Do they benefit from more time than that?
  6. Plan face-to-face time with their friends. Remember that they don’t need 842 friends; four-to-six close friends are enough for healthy social development. Help them learn how to plan real, in-person, social get-togethers such as a leave-phones-at-the-door party, a home movie night, bowling, board games, cooking pizza, or hosting a bonfire. They crave these social gatherings so encourage them to invite friends over and help them (as needed) to organize the event.
  7. Spend more real non-tech time together. Teens who are strongly attached to their parents and family show more overall happiness and success in life. They still need us now more than ever. It is easy to detach from them: Teens can be annoying! But attaching to family allows them to detach from the social media drama. Your child needs to feel like they can come home and leave the drama of their social world behind for a few hours. They want you to help them say no to social media and yes to more time with the family. They are craving those moments to disconnect, so make plans and encourage this at home.

Don’t give that smartphone all the power in your home; help tweens choose healthier forms of entertainment. They have the rest of their life to be entertained by social media, but only a limited time with you.

For more tools to help balance social media use from Families Managing Media, click here

To learn how to reverse the dysregulating effects of screen-time on your child’s mood, focus, and behavior, see Reset Your Child’s Brain.  

Docs to parents: Limit kids’ texts, tweets, online

 

AP News

Oct 28, 10:19 AM (ET)

By LINDSEY TANNER

 

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Amy Risinger, right, watches her son Mark Risinger, 16, at their home…
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CHICAGO (AP) – Doctors 2 parents: Limit kids’ tweeting, texting & keep smartphones, laptops out of bedrooms. (hash)goodluckwiththat.

The recommendations are bound to prompt eye-rolling and LOLs from many teens but an influential pediatricians group says parents need to know that unrestricted media use can have serious consequences.

It’s been linked with violence, cyberbullying, school woes, obesity, lack of sleep and a host of other problems. It’s not a major cause of these troubles, but “many parents are clueless” about the profound impact media exposure can have on their children, said Dr. Victor Strasburger, lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy

“This is the 21st century and they need to get with it,” said Strasburger, a University of New Mexico adolescent medicine specialist.

Under the new policy, those two hours include using the Internet for entertainment, including Facebook, Twitter, TV and movies; online homework is an exception.The policy is aimed at all kids, including those who use smartphones, computers and other Internet-connected devices. It expands the academy’s longstanding recommendations on banning televisions from children’s and teens’ bedrooms and limiting entertainment screen time to no more than two hours daily.

The policy statement cites a 2010 report that found U.S. children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours daily using some kind of entertainment media. Many kids now watch TV online and many send text messages from their bedrooms after “lights out,” including sexually explicit images by cellphone or Internet, yet few parents set rules about media use, the policy says.

“I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography,” Strasburger said.

The policy notes that three-quarters of kids aged 12 to 17 own cellphones; nearly all teens send text messages, and many younger kids have phones giving them online access.

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Mark Risinger, 16, checks his Facebook page on his computer as his…
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“Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school – it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping” the policy says.

Mark Risinger, 16, of Glenview, Ill., is allowed to use his smartphone and laptop in his room, and says he spends about four hours daily on the Internet doing homework, using Facebook and YouTube and watching movies.

He said a two-hour Internet time limit “would be catastrophic” and that kids won’t follow the advice, “they’ll just find a way to get around it.”

Strasburger said he realizes many kids will scoff at advice from pediatricians – or any adults.

“After all, they’re the experts! We’re media-Neanderthals to them,” he said. But he said he hopes it will lead to more limits from parents and schools, and more government research on the effects of media.

(AP) In this Oct. 24, 2013 photo, Mark Risinger, 16, checks his smartphone at home in Glenview, Ill….
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The policy was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. It comes two weeks after police arrested two Florida girls accused of bullying a classmate who committed suicide. Police say one of the girls recently boasted online about the bullying and the local sheriff questioned why the suspects’ parents hadn’t restricted their Internet use.

Mark’s mom, Amy Risinger, said she agrees with restricting kids’ time on social media but that deciding on other media limits should be up to parents.

“I think some children have a greater maturity level and you don’t need to be quite as strict with them,” said Risinger, who runs a communications consulting firm.

Her 12-year-old has sneaked a laptop into bed a few times and ended up groggy in the morning, “so that’s why the rules are now in place, that that device needs to be in mom and dad’s room before he goes to bed.”

Sara Gorr, a San Francisco sales director and mother of girls, ages 13 and 15, said she welcomes the academy’s recommendations.

Her girls weren’t allowed to watch the family’s lone TV until a few years ago. The younger one has a tablet, and the older one has a computer and smartphone, and they’re told not to use them after 9 p.m.

“There needs to be more awareness,” Gorr said. “Kids are getting way too much computer time. It’s bad for their socialization, it’s overstimulating, it’s numbing them.”

Teens in Survey Paint Positive Picture of Social Media’s Effect On Their Lives

Teens in survey paint positive picture of social media’s effect on their lives

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP – Two-thirds of teen respondents in a survey released Tuesday said they text every day.

 

By , Published: June 26The Washington Post

For the vast majority of teens, using social-media sites and texting have become a part of daily life — but they still prefer communicating face to face, according to a survey released Tuesday.Overall, the teens who participated in the study painted a positive picture of the influence of social media on their relationships and self-image.

 
Media use by teens.

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Media use by teens.

 

More than half of these “digital natives” — the first generation to have grown up with Facebook — said these technologies have helped them keep in touch with friends, get to know other students at their schoolbetter or connect with those who share a common interest.One in five said using social-networking sites makes them feel more confident, popular and sympathetic to others.

The national study of more than 1,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 17 by the child advocacy group Common Sense Media generally debunks the popular perception that using social-media sites is inherently harmful because of the dangers of isolation, bullying from peers, the release of private or personal information, or online predators.

However, the report did contain hints of what it called “Facebook fatigue,” with a significant number of teens saying they are “addicted” to devices (41 percent for cellphones), would like to unplug sometimes (43 percent) or would like go back to a time before Facebook was invented (36 percent).

“Many teens express an almost adult-like weariness with the pressures of the constant texting and posting involved in their modern lives,” the report stated.

The mixed feelings that teens have about digital communication shed new light on a population growing up immersed in online technology.

Research is scant on the behavioral and developmental effects of technology on youths.

Text messaging is still the favored application of teens for communicating. Two-thirds of respondents said they text every day, and half said they visit social-networking sites daily.

One-quarter of teens use at least two different types of social media a day.

Facebook, which is considering lowering the minimum age of its users, is the favored service among teens, with seven out of 10 people surveyed saying they have an account, compared with 6 percent for Twitter and 1 percent for Google+ and Myspace.

Half of teens said they think social networks have helped their friendships, while only 4 percent said the platforms have hurt their relationships.

Three out of 10 teens said social networks made them feel more outgoing, compared with 5 percent who said they felt more introverted.

Still, half of all respondents said real-life communication is the most fun and fruitful for their relationships.

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