‘Well, it’s social media for girls and porn for boys.”
That’s how a father of three children between the ages of 10 and 16 recently described what concerned him about their access to the Internet.
His views are certainly echoed by parents across the country whom I’ve interviewed in the past few weeks. For their sons, they’re primarily worried about early exposure to sexually explicit material. And for their daughters, they fret about cyberbullying and sexting.
It turns out, though, that parents aren’t the only ones concerned about the effects of technology on their children. So are the kids.
According to a Pew report out last week, 88 percent of teen social-media users believe people share too much information about themselves on social media; 53 percent of social-media-using teens have seen people posting to social media about events to which they weren’t invited; 42 percent of social-media-using teens have had someone post things on social media about them that they can’t change or control and 21 percent of teen social-media users report feeling worse about their own life because of what they see from other friends on social media.
None of these results is particularly surprising. These teens are just observing what most adults know about the effects of social media. But how interesting that even teens who grew up in an era of online oversharing still overwhelmingly think people are sharing too much.
It makes you wonder — what could they possibly be posting that crosses the line? But it’s also a way of reminding our own children that there is a line and many people (not just future employers but their own friends) might think less of them if they cross it.
As for the second finding, it certainly rings true among the parents I’ve interviewed. One mother of a 17-year-old boy in Washington, DC, told me that if her son spends too much time on Facebook, he gets “depressed looking at things kids are doing that he’s not part of.”
We tell our children, starting when they’re in preschool, not to talk about birthday parties that other kids aren’t invited to. It’s no wonder so many kids “feel worse about their own lives” when they see what their friends are up to.
While that mom says she used to restrict her son’s access more, now that he’s going off to college, she wants him to do more to “self-regulate.” She also wrote a list of 10 things for him he could try doing instead of being online “that would involved contact with real people.”
But just as it’s hard for grownups to pull themselves away from Facebook when we’re supposed to be focusing on other things, kids can get stuck, too.
It’s not just feelings of loneliness and inadequacy that can be stirred when kids see that their friends are off having fun without them. It’s also that so much of what goes on in social media is beyond their control.
Of course, there were always kids who seemed to be invited to more parties and there were always rumors spread about others. But social media turns things up a notch. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter make everything totally public and totally permanent.
There are many parents out there doing their best to keep up with their kids’ habits. But there are plenty who aren’t. According to Pew, a quarter of teens report being online “almost constantly.” Sometimes in ways that parents may not even think about.
This report says that almost 40 percent of teenage boys are using video games as one of the top three ways they communicate with their friends.
Many of the parents I spoke with had great difficulty figuring out who their kids were talking to on these “gaming platforms.” And each new game seemed to bring its own challenges.
The Pew report has a kind of relentlessly upbeat tone, saying that it “explores the new contours of friendship in the digital age” and that “all this playing, hanging out and talking while playing games leads many teens to feel closer to friends.”
But parents shouldn’t be fooled. The job of monitoring out kids online isn’t getting any easier, and it can’t be ignored.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.