Social media is everywhere and a huge part of how teens communicate. By the time you finish reading this article, how likely are you to have received a text from your teen?

A 2012 Common Sense Media study found that 75 percent of teens have a profile on a social networking site like Facebook; 68 percent text every day and 23 percent use at least two types of social media every day.

Those are some pretty significant statistics. But just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it’s good. The same study found that:

    • 57 percent of girls sometimes feel left out after seeing photos of others online
    • 45 percent of girls are concerned about other people posting photos of them
    • 28 percent of girls have edited photos of themselves before posting them

Like Dickens’ famous line from A Tale of Two Cities, technology has created both both the best of times with a whole new connected world and information at our fingertips and a whole new set of problems and consequences that we’ve never had to deal with before. We face the worst of times with cyber-bullying, sexting and posts gone viral.

Understanding the Impact

Social media makes the world move faster. Sometimes that’s a good thing with our teens, such as when we need a quick-check in via text or we can’t take a call at work. Connecting online can help teens work collectively on a project or homework, and connect with other teens facing the same chronic disease or serious illness. Mobile apps can help teens track the benefits of running or biking, manage stress and enjoy a little downtime with a quick online game.

There are so many positive opportunities, connections and global initiatives that can be garnered from social networking. But there can also be a dark side for teens who don’t fully understand how their online persona represents their character and how it can come back to haunt them.

Cyberbullying takes playground taunts and social divide in the high school cafeteria to new heights. At its worst, cyberbulling can cause depression, anxiety, isolation and possibly suicide. Sexting, (i.e.) sending text messages with sexual overtones is a disturbing risk and is growing more prevalent. Being unaware of your digital footprint— the evidence of what you do online—can jeopardize jobs and college acceptances.

Social Networking and Self-Esteem: A Glimpse at the Issue

In part, we get a sense of how successful, talented and proficient we are by comparing ourselves to others. In today’s digital world, the playground on which we make that comparison is no longer just in the school yard. Our children are comparing their ability, beauty and worth based on people all over the world and on distorted images of reality.

Social media profiles are often fabrications of who we want the world to think we are and teens begin to believe that is who they really are. All of this can wreak havoc on a child’s self-esteem and can cause all kinds of issues that stem from a person getting their validation externally instead of finding their power and worth from within.

Weighing the good and the bad is part of today’s parental job description. Your teen may be able to run circles around you when it comes to social media and navigating the Internet, but you have the maturity and life experience to understand both the benefits and potential risks of social media.

So What Can I Do?

The first, and most important thing to do, is have an old-fashioned, face-to-face conversation with your teen. Parents need to allow the child to be part of the discussion—to empower them instead of command them. Threats always backfire and rebellion always follows.

Discuss what’s appropriate, limits on screen time and establishing “phone-free zones” for the entire family. That means you, too. Whether or not they admit it, teens are watching what you do. Assess your own social media habits. How many times a day are you checking your online accounts? Are you on your smart phone at dinner or your child’s sporting events?

The Common Sense Media study found that 43 percent of teens sometimes wish they could unplug and 21 percent wish their parents would, too. Think about it.

Parenting Adolescent Girls in a Social Media World

Today’s girls are exposed to a society of excess and celebrity. Social media fuels a frenzied quest to be “somebody” — anybody but who they are. This can set them up for a lifetime of striving for some distorted illusion of perfection while never feeling good enough.

Social media is here to stay, so it is vital parents find effective ways to communicate and break through the negative messaging. Girls need positive role models and mentors who can show them how to maneuver the minefield of pop culture and how to emerge intact, strong, confident and fully equipped to create a life that they want—not what the media tells them they should want.

Don’t put your head in the sand. I’ve heard parents actually say, “My daughter told me not to go on twitter and frankly, I don’t even want to know what they’re tweeting.” One girl tweeted after a family holiday gathering, “I had all I could do not to barf on my family. #hungover” These girls seem to forget that unless they’ve blocked their twitter feed, anyone can read their tweets and as their parents – you should.

Social media is a tool that can be used to great benefit. Harnessing it for good and avoiding the pitfalls takes attention and perseverance, but the effort will be worth it.

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