Woodstock | Social Anxiety Unfounded?
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Social Anxiety Unfounded?

05 Nov Social Anxiety Unfounded?

Teenagers say that social media provides them a valuable source of creative self-expression and makes them feel less lonely and more connected. So are parental concerns about social media unfounded? Woodstock Principal Dr Jonathan Long explores the ways, both good and bad, in which the technology can affect young people’s lives.

 

I’ve just finished reading Common Sense Media’s latest research on the social media habits of teenagers around the world. Common Sense Media is a leading independent non-profit organisation which exists to help young people thrive in a world of technology. In fact, we use some of their outstanding classroom material for parts of our Personal, Social and Health Education Programme here at Woodstock.

In partnership with the University of Southern California, Common Sense Media’s new report, The New Normal: Parents, Teens, and Devices Around the World takes a look at how social media and mobile technology have completely changed the lives of our children – impacting their lifestyles, relationships and habits in profound ways.

“The evidence is overwhelming that, for the most part, teens are doing fine on social media. Through their experience of social media, they are feeling less anxious, less depressed and less lonely.” Sierra Filucci, Chief Executive Editor, Common Sense Media

What I found fascinating in this report is the way in which young people themselves are very positive about their use of social media. It seems that either parents’ and educators’ fears about teenagers and social media are overstated or young people are fooling themselves about its impact on their lives.

Here are a few of the key findings in the research:

  • Teenagers report that social media has a positive rather than a negative effect on how they feel. They say that using social media strengthens their friendships, allows them to express themselves more easily and makes them feel more connected.
  • In 2012, almost 70% of teenagers said that Facebook was their main social media site. That figure has dropped to 15%. Instagram is now the leading platform.
  • In 2012, almost 50% of teenagers claimed that their favorite way to communicate was in person. That figure has dropped to 32%. According to this new research, sending a text message is now a teenager’s number one method of communication. Close to 20% of teenagers reported using social media “almost constantly”, and over 20% say they use it several times an hour.

Common Sense Media’s Chief Executive Editor, Sierra Filucci, says, “The evidence is overwhelming that, for the most part, teens are doing fine on social media. Through their experience of social media, they are feeling less anxious, less depressed and less lonely,”

Whilst quick to identify the pitfalls and distractions of social media, teenagers are saying that social media provides them a valuable source of creative self-expression and makes them feel less lonely and more connected. In fact, the report says, “Across every measure in our survey, teens are more likely to say that social media has a positive rather than a negative effect on how they feel.”

"We don’t yet have any studies which show the real long-term impact of social media by teenagers. Until then, the court is still out on whether or not it is quite as good as teenagers seem to think it is!"

Despite the very positive feedback from teenagers themselves, three things struck me in the report as concerns. First, for teenagers with low levels of emotional well-being, the report says that social media tends to be more of a negative influence than a positive one. In fact, social media can exacerbate a situation in which a vulnerable teenager feels isolated, bullied or threatened. Second, the report mentions the growing evidence that mental health issues linked to mobile phone use and a lack of sleep is something parents and educators should be worried about. This is something we take seriously here at Woodstock. Our night-time device policy is one attempt to minimize this risk. Third, we don’t yet have any studies which show the real long-term impact of social media by teenagers. Until then, the court is still out on whether or not it is quite as good as teenagers seem to think it is!

The great social critic, Neil Postman, made that point that all technologies (like mobile phones and social media) give us something and also take something away. In other words, all technology is a double-edged sword. In his book, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, he wrote some words which advise us, as parents and educators, to be cautious and careful when it comes to the use of any technology – to make sure we are aware of what we are losing by using it, as much as we are aware of what we are gaining.

“The computer and its associated technologies are awesome additions to a culture, and they are quite capable of altering the psychic, let alone the sleeping, habits of our young,” says Postman. “But like all important technologies of the past, they are Faustian bargains, giving and taking away, sometimes in equal measure, sometimes more in one way than the other. It is strange - indeed, shocking –  that… we can still talk of new technologies as if they were unmixed blessings, gifts, as it were, from the gods.”

We continue to adopt a cautious and prudent approach here at Woodstock – trying to maintain a balance between sensible use and banning all forms of social media. As is often the case in life, it is in holding the moderate and balanced path that we find the greatest wisdom.

Dr Jonathan Long, Principal, Woodstock School

Photo: Social sharing at Sadie Hawkin by Kittapa Sasivimonpan. Click here for more photos of Sadie 2018.

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