Q. I don’t allow my kids to have Snapchat (a popular social media texting app where texts disappear after a few seconds). Everyone else their age is doing it, though, and they feel left out. But I’ve seen those other kids. They just sit at home and Snap - no real interaction. My kids are getting frustrated. They say they don’t hate me, they just hate my rules. The peer pressure to give in and let the kids use Snapchat is enormous on both me and them. What can I do?
I commend your wisdom. Uninformed parents who allow their children unfettered access to Snapchat or any social media app must hope that their kids will somehow be able to beat the odds. Consider some recent statistics:
- Snapchat offers rewards for having “streaks” of conversations. Similar to receiving “likes,” this releases dopamine in the brain, causing a rush of pleasure, like eating chocolate. It’s one reason why the average teen spends 9 hours per day using electronic media and 50 percent of teens say they feel addicted to their cell phone. It is junk food for the mind.
- Seventy-seven percent of parents claim their teens are preoccupied with their cell phones when they’re together, and 78 percent of teens check their devices every hour.
- Social media apps can lead to poorer academic performance. Users on average hold a 3.06 GPA. For non-users, it’s 3.82.
- Forty-one percent of young adults say they check social media while driving. This is one reason why drivers ages 16 to 19 are the most likely to die in distracted-driving crashes. Driving with a cell phone makes teens up to four times more likely to be involved in an accident. Accidents are the number one cause of death for teenagers.
Snapchat encourages leering at peers’ and celebrities’ “stories.” This constant comparison can contribute to depression in teens who feel they don’t measure up to the superficial appearances of others. Social media preys on powerful adolescent fears of being left out, of being friendless, uncool, or unwanted. A recent survey by the Royal Academy for Public Health showed that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness. The National Center for Biotechnology Information flatly asserts that “online social networking is related to depression.” Depression is a leading cause of suicide, which is the number two cause of death for teenagers.
Those parents who feel that Snapchat fosters their child’s social skills are overlooking a vital fact: there is never a rest from the online relationships it breeds. Psychologist Dr. Donna Wick states that this leads to anxiety: “Everyone needs a respite from the demands of intimacy and connection; time alone to regroup, replenish, and just chill out. When you don’t have that, it’s easy to become emotionally depleted, fertile ground for anxiety to breed.”
But perhaps the most frightening thing about Snapchat or similar platforms is that unrestricted access to it gives our children license to live in a separate world hidden from the one we see. In the past, vigilant parents knew who their children were hanging out with, where they were, and what they were doing. If there were sketchy peers or activities involved, good parents would shut it down. But with Snapchat, you don’t know who your kids are talking to, what they are doing, or who they are secretly becoming. It allows kids to literally live two different lives. By the time parents have figured out that their kids aren’t who they thought they were, they lament that they “never really knew their own child.” Access to Snapchat may mean that they never will.
What does all this mean for parents who choose to shield their children from social media? It means your job becomes a whole lot harder. While Snapchat foments a “fear of missing out” in adolescents, so does restricting it. It will fall on you to find ways to combat the dreaded “FOMO.” I recommend three things:
Help your children find a peer group that can satisfy their innate need for positive person-to-person social interactions. Encourage (or even force) them to try different youth groups, churches, sports teams, or clubs.
Keep them busy. You will have to make sacrifices here. Work on home projects together. Go to the library and the movies with each other frequently. Help them find a hobby that stimulates their minds, such as photography or cooking. But also be mindful that there are times when they need their privacy.
Love them. Make sure your concern doesn’t become nagging or helicoptering. They think you’re doing this “to” them; make sure they understand you’re doing it “for” them. Give them more love, more time, and better communication.
Social media is our culture’s “monkey’s paw.” It fulfills all of our wishes for easily maintaining relationships, but it frequently does so with devastating consequences. Parents should strongly consider delaying their children’s exposure to that devastation as long as possible. Two lives is simply one too many for most adolescents to handle.