Social Media – Under Construction

As with most parts of life – whether as a teenager or adult – the challenge is to “be the author” vs. “letting life happen to you.”  So, this section is devoted to the basics of managing your experience of social media.

Social media is powerful and will have a significant impact on your life.  Some of that impact will be positive and some will be negative.  Your challenge is to determine the balance – create as many positive benefits as possible and wisely guard against the negatives.

What’s Here to Help You Manage Social Media?

  1. Key things to keep in mind
  2. Potential Positive Effects
  3. Potential Negative Effects
  4. Strategies for Teenagers
  5. A Strategy for Teenagers and Parents
  6. Strategies for Parents
  7. Data – What the Numbers Say

There are a surprising number of books, articles, and sites dedicated to social media issues.  But there is no single “how to” source for dealing with social media, so it’s important to explore what you can find and pay attention to the sources that make the most sense to you.

Note.  As with all sections of this site, this section is built around information and guidelines, not specific “how to” advice or counseling.  There is no formula for managing your social media experience.  Everyone has to find their own way, but there are some common concepts to consider as you do that.

#1  Key Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Don’t let it manage you.  Social media is now a major part of life, and it is powerful.  It will manage you, if you don’t manage it
  2. Be the author.  The challenge is to “be the author” – make it work for you – get the benefits and guard against the pitfalls.
  3. Same challenges.  In the world of social media you will confront the same core challenges and journey experiences as in the physical world.  It’s just a different world in which to explore creating your identity as a young adult; developing new or different relationships; and building a range of competencies for success as a young adult.
  4. Vulnerability.  The better you do on those three core challenges, the less vulnerable you will be to the negative social media influences.  Note:  If you are not doing well in terms of social-emotional well-being, you will be more vulnerable to the negative effects – but may find the positive effects to be a great help if managed well.
  5. They manipulate you.  The various platforms – Instagram, TikTok, etc. – vary in terms of design as well as the potential positive and negative effects, so they need to be managed differently.  Just remember that they are all designed to manipulate you to meet their business objectives.  That’s part of why you have to manage them – to avid being managed.
  6. Parents.  Strange as it may sound, parents can actually be very helpful in supporting your management of your experience – particularly in guarding against the dangers.

#2 Potential Positive Effects

If you can manage your life on social media, there is a surprising number of good things that you can make happen.  Managing your social media experience is a good way to enhance your ability to manage your life in general.

  1. Social Connections – stay connected with friends, develop new connections, develop social skills, feel less isolated or left out, and give and receive emotional support
  2. Community Engagement – volunteer, learn about community life and issues, connect with others, raise money for causes you care about, etc.
  3. Have Fun – finding entertainment and humor alone or with others
  4. Individual and Collective Creativity – create blogs, podcasts, DIY projects, videos, school projects, etc.
  5. Expand Your World – learn about events and issues outside your immediate environment
  6. Deal with Individual and Cultural Differences – while engaging with others learn respect, tolerance, the value of diversity, how to have tough conversations and resolve conflicts, problem solve, etc.
  7. Develop Your Identity – exploring, testing, expanding your perspectives, getting feedback, seeing what fits, etc.


#3  Possible Negative Effects

The potential negative effects are presented here, not to scare you, but to highlight where the dangers lie, so that you can better manage them.

There are some real and serious dangers that naturally come with the world of social media.  They need to be managed and that is sometimes not easy to do, particularly in areas where you will need to put some limits on the time you spend online or some of the sites you visit.

  1. Disconnection.  You can become disconnected from the “real world.”  This is usually a matter of spending too much time in your digital world and not enough time in your physical world.  It’s a matter of balance and that can be tough to maintain with a digital world that is designed to draw you in.
  2. Interference with healthy stuff.  Social media can significantly interfere with key aspects of your life – things that really do matter, such as:
    • Sleep
    • Homework
    • Exercise
    • Family relationships
    • Other activities
  3. Reputation.  Your reputation can be damaged.  Others can maliciously damage your reputation and you can hurt it by posting inappropriately.
  4. Inappropriate content.  You can be exposed to too much inappropriate content (too much violence, sex, drugs, bad information on key topics, etc.).
  5. Unrealistic comparisons.  It is easy to compare yourself against unrealistic profiles, which can be depressing and generate envy and jealousy.
  6. Diminished.  You can be bullied, excluded or otherwise diminished through no fault of your own.
  7. Replaceable.  You can feel replaceable if you don’t respond fast enough to the posts of others
  8. Too much shared.  There is often pressure to share too much information.
  9. FOMO – fear of missing out – is a frequent experience
  10. Victimized.  You can be victimized by scams, sexting, catfishing, deceptive advertising, etc.

Yes, there really are a lot of natural dangers with social media.  So, you need to be good at managing your use of social media to minimize the impact those dangers might have.  The dangers are naturally there.  Manage them.  That’s being the author of your experience.

#4  Strategies for Teenagers

Getting the Positive Benefits

Focus on the positive possibilities.  You have a lot of control there and the more power you exercise in getting the benefits from social media, the less power the negative stuff has.

For example, you can use the attached worksheet to identify the top 3-5 areas of positive possibilities that you want to focus on – and choose specific actions ton take in each of those areas.  You don’t need to act in every area.  Just follow your interests and take advantage of any available resources (people, sites, platforms, etc.).

Note.  As with many of the challenges you will encounter on your journey, some of your efforts will be successful and some will be disappointing.  That’s just the way it works.  If something doesn’t work let it go and learn from the experience.  That’s how you develop the perseverance and resilience required for success on the journey (any journey in life).

Manage your social media use, so that your parents don’t have to.  Educate your parents about your social media use, particularly how you are getting the positive benefits, but also how you are guarding against the dangers.  You can also let them know how they can help you (things to do and things to not do).

Manage the Negative Impacts – Guard Against the Dangers

In General

Get ahead of the game, so that others don;’t have to play too big of a role.  If you are taking care of yourself, then others don’t need to be overly involved.

Take the initiative to negotiate a good agreement with your parents about how you will use social media and their role.  This can be extremely valuable in developing a good teen/parent relationship (changing from the child/parent relationship of the first 12 years).  It can also help you manage your social media experience.

Focus on managing your social media experience so that it doesn’t interfere with the key parts of life (this can be tough):  sleep, diet, family relationships, exercise, schoolwork, other activities, etc.

Smart Posting

This is critical because of the ease with which online communication can be misinterpreted and because of its “forever” nature.  Fortunately, there are some easy strategies that can keep you out of most trouble.

  1. Pay attention to the “3 Ws.”  Who is your audience?  What is the message?  Why are you sending it?
  2. Be nice.  Social media is a poor place to attack someone.  You can certainly defend yourself, but do it wisely – don’t just react.
  3. Think twice. Before hitting “send” think twice or set a wait time.  That just keeps you from reacting in a way that you would regret later.
  4. Ask WWGS.  What would Grandma say?  What would a college admissions officer, potential employer, or someone whose respect you want say about your post?
  5. Protect your personal information.  

Protect Against Things that Diminish You

One of the biggest problems with social media is how easy it is to be diminished in various ways – feeling smaller or “less than” – from competence and attractiveness to desirability as a friend or romantic partner.  And it’s easy to feel small and disconnected in a big world.

It’s important to not let social media diminish you, so be alert to not letting the following pitfalls get to you – take their power away.

  1. Comparisons.  It’s natural to compare yourself to others, but remember that most people post overly positive images of their lives – and you may be more focused on what’s missing in yours.
  2. FOMO/Being excluded.  Fear of missing out is a big danger and can be magnified online.  If you are pursuing the positive aspects of social media and making things happen in your life, this danger has much less power.
  3. Bullying.  There is something wrong with bullies so keep that in mind.  Online bullying is easier and the bullies don’t even have to confront you in person or see the hurt they cause.  Pretty cowardly.  If you’re being bullied online, get help and disconnect from the method they are using.
  4. Damage to your reputation.  Your responsibility is to make sure that you don’t damage your reputation by posting inappropriately.  Others can also damage your reputation and that can be hard to deal with.  Getting help from others – peers or trusted adults may be necessary.