Youth Culture Window

Teens’ Problems With Social Media

Dynamic ImageEarly last week, the body of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell was discovered 80 miles from her home in Virginia. She lost her life after interacting with an older college student through the social media app known as Kik.

But Nicole’s story of loss is just one among many that stems from social media misuse.

The Setbacks of Social Media
Tragedies like Nicole’s always draw national attention because it puts social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, along with a host of related apps, in the hateful crosshairs of the American populace. Granted, the stories don’t always end in murder, but there are consequences, intended or not, when social media is abused and misused by young people. Here are just a few highly-relatable examples:

Stupidity on social media has been known to cost young people entrance into their favorite colleges. The number of college admissions officers who investigate the social media profiles of their applicants has quadrupled in the last ten years. In 2008, when social media was still emerging as a global force, only 10% of colleges took social media into account. Today, 40% of colleges check out a wide range of high school students’ online interests and activities. For example, they might check out what their prospective students “like,” which musicians they follow, verify that an award/accolade was actually won, and whether or not racism, drug use, or criminal activity was engaged in or supported.

But the consequences of poor social media use might extend beyond the college years. Social media abuse has also been known to sway the decisions of prospective employers, as well. These days, a whopping 93% of companies review an applicant’s social media profile(s) before extending an employment contract. And those second looks have greatly influenced the human resource side of the conversation! 55% of the time, a candidate might be reconsidered for a position because of what’s found on their profile. Again, drug use and criminal activity are big factors in a hiring decision, but “sexual posts,” profanity, and even poor grammar/spelling can weigh in, too.

Losing out on a favorite college or dream job could make young people lose sleep at night…which is what some experts believe social media is already doing. The newest study on the subject, by the University of Pittsburgh, has some fingering social media as a culprit of sleep loss. They interviewed 1,788 young adults in the U.S. asking questions about social media use and sleep habits. On average, users were found to spend a total of 61 minutes on social media sites every day…and roughly 30% of them admitted they suffer a “great deal of sleep disturbance.” Of course, that’s the “average.” The quality and amount of sleep decreased greatly as social media use increased.

Preventing the Stings of Social Media
Parents and youth workers can easily see the wide-ranging consequences of social media misuse and abuse in the lives of teenagers. In fact, most of us have firsthand experience of picking up and dusting off a teenager who was wounded by the sting of social media misuse. But, as all of us know, prevention is far better than a cure – especially when it comes to the highly public effects of a social media blunder. Here are a couple of ideas that will help your teenagers use social media wisely, and thus navigate the consequences so many others face.


  1. Help them manage their social media. NOTE: I didn’t say manage it for them. Correctly handling the reality of social media is quickly becoming an indicator of maturity so don’t deprive them of this responsibility. But don’t let them just crash time after time, either. Find a vantage point that will allow them to be safe…and simultaneously grow. Certainly, that includes monitoring their social media use. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is that no matter the platform – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. – at least one parent has to be a “friend” or “follower.” This will give you a bird’s eye view of the social media situation so you can steer them clear of dangerous content and dangerous people.
    But there are other factors you will need to show them how to manage as it relates to social media. For example, teens will probably need some help setting appropriate boundaries with regard to the amount of time they spend on social media. Maybe they’ll need social media free zones, as well, like the dinner table. It won’t hurt to teach them how to respond to cyberbullying, either.
    Whatever you need to do, help them learn to manage their social media, because, in a significant way, they’re really learning how to manage themselves.
  2. Model responsible use, yourself. We all know that we’re supposed to “practice what we preach,” but for some reason, when it comes to social media, we tend to wrongly believe that subtle misuses of social media are overlooked by teens. They’re not. If Mom is continually distracted at home with Pinterest and Dad is forever posting selfies on Instagram, it’s difficult to get upset with teens that do the same. Likewise, if youth workers are scrolling through Facebook during church services, teens are going to notice that hypocrisy, too. This is another one of those parts of life where we must lead by example.

Bear in mind that social media is not an enemy to be feared. It’s a conduit for many, many things. As parents and youth workers, we just need to make sure that what’s being piped in won’t cause harm.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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