To most of us today, it can be pretty astonishing how the Internet has revolutionized our behavior as human beings, from how we get around to how we communicate with one another over long distances. However, while social media has had a variety of positive impacts on how people connect across the globe, it is also crucial to be aware how communication has evolved, or in many cases, devolved, thanks to the instantaneous gratification of communication online. Especially as parents, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of both the positives and negatives of social media’s relationship to communication and your children. The Attachment Place works thoroughly with many clients who have suffered from a communicative disconnect due to a child or parent’s unhealthy relationship to social media. While simply limiting the time a child spends online can be useful, understanding how media as a whole can affect the social abilities of your child can help you have more informed conversations with them about their media diets, and spot warning signs that can spell trouble down the road.
The Loneliness of Never Being Alone
Every parent fears feeling disconnected from their child, and children having social media accounts that they don’t share with their parents can exacerbate this feeling. However, in and of itself, this is not something that should worry you as a parent. Many adolescents feel the need to craft their own identity, and having an identity online today is a large part of socialization for today’s generation of youth. Rather, you should take an interest in how a child’s social media habits manifest in their everyday lives, and when they’re supplementing online interactions for actual human interactions. Researchers have found that the most debilitating aspect of social media usage is in how it is leveraged to communicate with others, meaning those that utilize it to communicate and upkeep current relationships often have less damaging effects than those using it to live vicariously or nostalgically. What this means is that social media is not in and of itself inherently damaging; the risks come when a person takes to supplementing human interactions for online experiences, which in the long term can hamper their ability to seek out healthy and fulfilling relationships in the real world, and as a result, cause them to fall into a habit of becoming distant from those around them.
Learning How to Be Alone With Yourself
What researchers truly fear may be the consequence of embedding yourself in a digital reality is that you may become disconnected from essential human emotions that can healthily arise from being alone with your own thoughts and contemplations, namely empathy for others. Dr. Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor who has studied the psychological effects of social media, speculated that “true empathy requires the capacity for solitude.” What this means is our ability to understand one another’s emotions and experiences require some amount of self-reflection, looking inward at how our actions would make us feel if inflicted against us, and in turn allowing us to synthesize how they would make others feel. From this perspective, social media has the possibility of robbing some users of the ability to empathize because our actions are so disconnected from direct consequences.
The Healthiness of Being Alone
The fears many parents may approach social media with are not necessarily the biggest risks vulnerable adolescents can face online; rather, it is crucial to becoming acquainted with how your child communicates online versus how they communicate face to face, and if there is a significant amount of disconnect between those two. It may sound counterintuitive to encourage being alone, and in many cases it is. Young adults thrive off socialization. However, it is important to set boundaries on when it is acceptable and advisable to use social media as to encourage your children to get more in-touch with their own empathy, an essential human trait social media can damage. Set aside times where creative expression is encouraged instead of instant internet gratification, and always keep communication channels open to facilitate a dialogue between you and your child so they never feel as if social media is the only outlet they can access to express genuine emotions. If you feel these tactics aren’t working, and that your child needs a serious social media detox, contact The Attachment Place about our respite care or other services that can help strengthen the relationships in your family.