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As technological innovations continue to expand, access to devices that connect one to social media have become more readily available to the public. A study conducted by Radesky et al. (2016) about the use of mobile technology among children found that "mobile device usage by young children, even among those from disadvantaged backgrounds, continues to increase rapidly" (p.504). The increasing usage of social media networks is strongly affecting the social development of young adolescents. The effects social media is having on young adolescents is can be positive or negative depending on how the child is being exposed to it. For instance, social media positively affects adolescents by enabling them to build stronger social connections with their peers as they are able to easily stay connected to them. In contrast, these connections can also have a negative effect on the social development of young adolescents if they are victims of bullying or other damaging relationships because their abuser can easily remain connected to them. In addition, the use of social media among young adolescents will also have an impact on their mental health as they can be exposed to unrealistic ideals of body image which can affect their self-esteem and have long term effect on their social development. It is highly important for the effects of social media usage on the social development of young adolescents to be studied because there can be many long-term effects if this milestone is not met. It is the job of professionals in the early childhood field alongside parents to assure they are educated in the matter and give the children the tools to surpass each developmental stage.
One of the many benefits of the advances technology has made is the way in which people can remain connected and easily reached throughout the day. This indicates that young adults are able to remain connected to their friends outside of school hours, which aids their social development. According to Minna Ruckenstein (2013), "mobile phones, game consoles, and computers are an essential part of the sociality between children in increasingly diverse ways" (p.476). By having access to devices in which social interactions can occur outside of a school setting, children and young adolescents are practicing social skills on a regular basis. In addition, a study conducted by Sarah Wilson (2016) indicated that social media usage was helping children and adolescents stay connected to people in many ways. For instance, not only were they able to maintain relationships with peers but they were also able to remain in contact with long-distance friendships and find long-lost friends and family through social media sources.
Furthermore, social media is being used as a topic of communication among children. More specifically, "meanings from home (and many other places) are carried to the playground, and in the social context of playing with media texts, children participate in social processes of meaning-making and identification" (Willett, 2015, p.411). This indicates that media is being used as a form of socialization among children, therefore, if fostered away from the use of social media, some children could potentially risk the inability to build strong relationships with their peers. It is clear that when it comes to the social development of young adolescents, social media networks are an essential part of communicating and building relationships with one another.
In contrast, although the use of social media networks has positive effects on the social development of young adolescents, there are also dangers that arise from using it. For example, if children are being victims of bullying, having access to social media can cause the aggressors to have another source at which to attack. Research on bullying and social media usage among children has found that online bullying, though sometimes anonymous, is typically done by peers whom know the victim personally. (Canty, Stubbe, Steers, & Collings, 2016, p.52). This would mean that these victims would not be able to escape the bullying, it would follow them to their homes. In addition, the study found that "children and young people recognise a greater likelihood of doing or saying something they would not if it were face-to-face" (Canty et al., 2016, p.53). To further explain, children may feel more inclined to act a certain way if they are behind a screen because it is not as intimidating as in person, which can result in a higher risk for online bullying and thus be detrimental to the social development of the victim.
Another danger with young adolescents using social media is that their use may be uncensored and parents cannot always control what their children are doing or whom they are interacting with. For instance, children could be exposed to communicating with complete strangers they have never met, which could end up being predators. A study conducted by Elizabeth Daniels and Eileen Zurbriggen (2016), explored the dangers with teen sexuality and social media use. They found that young adolescents are using social media as ways in which they can post provocative images to capture the attention of their peers and attain social acceptance (p.938). The problem with this is that social media is being used as a way to attract attention but in doing that, everyone on the internet is having access to these inappropriate photographs of young adolescents, whom are underage and with a possible lack of understanding of the dangers that may come with it. This may result in a negative form of social development because they are growing up and engage in provocative content that may be above their developmental age.
Apart from the positive and negative effects on the social development of young adolescents when using social media, there are also factors that may affect their mental health in connection to their social development. For instance, social media can become addictive and impede children from face to face interactions or in other cases more serious factors can occur such as self esteem problems and depression. Studies have shown that social media addictions are very real and can cause a lot of problems for youth in and outside of school because there is a lack of attention span and face to face communication with peers (Bányai et al., 2017, p. 2). An addiction is a mental health problem that could potentially cause a lot of long term problems if it goes unresolved. These children could end up isolated from their peers and eventually struggle graduating from school or finding a job.
Furthermore, the constant use of social media could affect at-risk children in many ways when it comes to self esteem. This is because of the pressures of being socially accepted by peers, as well as the pressure to look a certain way that is perceived by the media. Some of these negative aspects to the mental health of young adolescents include "increased risk-taking behaviours, cyberbullying, depression, exclusion of minority groups and negative influences on health and wellbeing, namely reduced self-image and self-esteem" (Richards, Caldwell, Go & Caldwell, 2015, p.1154). This can affect the social development of children and young adolescents because not only are they dealing with the changes of transitioning from a child to a teenager but they now have to struggle with a mental health problem, which can result in loss of friendships and interest in activities they previously enjoyed.
As an early childhood professional, it is highly important to be informed about the issues surrounding social media and young adolescents. With the up rise in technology and social media usage within schools, one needs to understand all aspects of the effect it has on the social development of children and young adolescents because if ignored there can be detrimental effects. As an educator, one needs to make choices on how to deal with the media students are using and in which ways to help them meet their full potential within social development, therefore it is very important to know the positives and negatives of social media usage.
It is important to note that steps can be taken by parents, professionals and creators of media sites in order to prevent some of these issues. For instance, "some of the social media risks for children can be minimised by adding in safety features" (Richards, Caldwell, Go & Caldwell, 2015, p.1154). If features are added to make sites safe, children will still be able to use them and interact with peers but in a way which inhibits access to inappropriate content or interactions with people they have never met before. In addition, there is a tool called the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale, which is used to assess whether a child has an addiction to social media or not. This could be used to test children whom one thinks could be having a problem with a social media addiction and thus develop a treatment to help the child early on (Bányai et al., 2017, p. 10). Lastly, it is advised for educators to teach children and youth about social media in school so that they are prepared for the things they may encounter while connected to the online world. Daniels and Zurbriggem (2016) posited that "media literacy curricula that address social media specifically are important given the almost whole scale adoption of social media by young people and the electronic footprint using it entails" (p.960).Teaching children about social media could highly aid in fostering a safe social development and prevent some of the negative outcomes.
In conclusion, social media usage can affect the social development of young adolescents in many ways. There are positive outcomes to using social media such as better connectivity to peers and social acceptance as one is able to interact with peers outside of the school setting. To contrast, there are also negative outcomes such as increased forms of bullying that carry on from the school to the home, and risks of meeting strangers or being exposed to content that is not age appropriate. Lastly, there can be many detrimental factors to social development when it comes to mental health. Addiction to social media has been reported among youth as well as issues such as self esteem, which can result in young adolescents forming negative relationships with peers and having long term problems in and outside of the online world.
Early childhood professionals, parents, and community members should realized the importance of this growing issue and aid young adolescents with social media usage. Social media sites should be made safe with restrictions for people under a certain age, tests should be conducted to help children battle social media addictions, and education on social media should be taught in school. These methods could aid in helping children have a safe social development and grow to be healthy adults. Overall, social media should be used among young adolescents with a great deal of supervision and a high level of education about the dangers of social media usage should be given, especially in a time where social media is easily accessed.
Bányai, F., Zsila, Á., Király, O., Maraz, A., Elekes, Z., Griffiths, M. D., & ... Demetrovics, Z. (2017). Problematic Social Media Use: Results from a Large-Scale Nationally Representative Adolescent Sample. Plos ONE, 12(1), 1-13. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0169839
Canty, J., Stubbe, M., Steers, D., & Collings, S. (2016). The Trouble with Bullying - Deconstructing the Conventional Definition of Bullying for a Child-centred Investigation into Children's Use of Social Media. Children & Society, 30(1), 48-58. doi:10.1111/chso.12103
Daniels, E., & Zurbriggen, E. (2016). 'It's Not the Right Way to Do Stuff on Facebook:' An Investigation of Adolescent Girls' and Young Women's attitudes Toward Sexualized Photos on Social Media. Sexuality & Culture, 20(4), 936-964. doi:10.1007/s12119-016- 9367-9
Radesky, J. S., Eisenberg, S., Kistin, C. J., Gross, J., Block, G., Zuckerman, B., & Silverstein, M. (2016). Overstimulated Consumers or Next-Generation Learners? Parent Tensions About Child Mobile Technology Use. Annals of Family Medicine, 14(6), 503-508.
Richards, D., Caldwell, P. H., Go, H., & Caldwell, P. Y. (2015). Impact of social media on the health of children and young people. Journal Of Paediatrics & Child Health, 51(12), 1152-1157. doi:10.1111/jpc.13023
Ruckenstein, M. (2013). Spatial extensions of childhood: from toy worlds to online communities. Children's Geographies, 11(4), 476-489. doi:10.1080/14733285.2013.812309
Willett, R. (2015). Children's Media-referenced Games: The Lived Culture of Consumer on a School Playground. Children & Society, 29(5), 410-420. doi:10.1111/chso.12067
Wilson, S. (2016). Digital technologies, children and young people's relationships and self- care. Children's Geographies, 14(3), 282-294. doi:10.1080/14733285.2015.1040726
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