The Winsor School
A leading school for academically promising girls in grades 5-12

Social Media: Harnessing Its Positive Potential
Madeline Warlan, School Counselor

Technology, smartphones, social media: these are today's buzzwords. We see and hear so much about how technology is both positively and negatively impacting children and adults alike. Most would agree, technological advancements in the past decade have dramatically changed our daily lives. This is not unlike any other major invention since we discovered fire thousands of years ago. So why are we so shaken by our smartphones? What do we have to gain from them? And what do we have to fear?

Jean M. Twenge recently wrote an article for The Atlantic in which she explains her research on generational differences over the past three decades. Her findings are not unlike other research on the topic of adolescent development and technology use; too much screen time is detrimental. Depression and suicide is on the rise. Twenge reports "teens who spend 3 hours or more a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to have a risk of suicide" and that "from 2012 to 2015, girls' depressive symptoms increased by 50%." Teens are also reporting feeling lonelier than ever. Loneliness is on the rise since 2013 while at the same time, teens report there is "no need to leave home to hang out when you can talk to each other online." Twenge writes, "8th graders who spend 10 hours or more a week on social media are 56% more likely to report feeling unhappy." Twenge recognizes that hers, and other similar research, does not prove a scientific correlation between smartphones and depression or suicide. It does, however, highlight noteworthy factors that may escalate the root issues and should be acknowledged.

In late January, Winsor parents came to hear Michelle Cove speak about "Helping Adolescents Navigate Social Media in Healthy Ways." Ms. Cove is the executive director of MEDIAGIRLS, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls and young women how to harness the power of media for positive change. She explored the complicated world of social media that adolescents are faced with navigating. She shared the lists of "posting rules" outlined by students on the "do's and don'ts" of acceptable Snapchat and Instagram posting. It was dizzying.

Ms. Cove pointed out that not all of what social media has to offer is bad. Social media platforms such as Instagram have helped spread awareness to social causes such at the #metoo movement and women rights as well as humanitarian issues and positive self-love messages. The internet can be a great place to build and foster inclusive and encouraging networks that will help adolescents to look beyond their immediate surroundings and friend groups.

So what do we do with all of this information? How do we help guide today's teens through this new terrain? Like any of the past generations' obstacles, there are no right answers, only guidelines to help smooth the path.

  • Model good behavior for your children. We are all impacted by technology. It is important to model a healthy balance by practicing moderation.
  • Limit screen time. Studies show that increased screen time is linked to increased levels of depression and lowers levels of happiness and sleep.
  • Practice positive technology use. Encourage your teenager to look for positive ways to consume and produce social media content.
  • Phone free bedtime. Cell phones and screen time at night impact our mental health as well as sleep habits. Create a central charging station away from the bedroom to dock phones at night.
  • Set house rules and expectations. Talk to your teen about his/her own expectations for technology and social media use. Come up with family ground rules and develop a "cell phone contract" to hold all members accountable.

Technology is ever evolving. Social media and smartphones are not the first technological advancement to shift a generation, and they won't be the last. Through understanding, we can better harness its positive potential and shield against its detriments.

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