Social Media and Online Engagement (A Life of #Hashtags)

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Vickie Leflore, Youth Development Extension Educator

Today, we are engulfed with a variety of social media platforms and online activities. There are #hashtags for almost anything one can think of.

Social media and online engagement among youth has grown tremendously with the advancement of cellphone technology.

According to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among teens. Fully 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent say they are online almost constantly (2018).

Just as you can find a hashtag for anything, you can also find an application for just about anything from games to do-it-yourself projects to meditation.

For parents of youth, when it comes to social media and online engagement, it can be difficult because there are so many benefits, but as well, there are many risk factors that must be considered.

Oberst et al. (2017) indicate that “social networking sites (SNS) are especially attractive for adolescents, but it has also been shown that these users can suffer from negative psychological consequences when using these sites excessively.”

Uhls, Ellison & Subrahmanyam (2017) suggest that online engagement and social media platforms provide a great deal of information and resources instantly. Many youth report social media platforms have helped them to develop and maintain friendships.

Negative impacts of social media can include cyberbullying, depression, social anxiety and exposure to developmentally inappropriate content (Uhls et al., 2017).

Cyberbullying is bullying through the internet and through the use of text messaging. Cyberbullying is used to intentionally harm another individual or group of individuals.

The amount of time spent on social media can contribute to youth losing sleep, which can result in them experiencing depression. Oftentimes, being a part of social media allows individuals to feel socially engaged, but many times there is no real connection or the connection may be short-lived.

A question we have to ask ourselves is, when we turn off Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat is there a sense of loneliness?

Having real, face-to-face interactions cannot be substituted, and there is great value in that connection of being able to have this type of contact and support. With social media usage, it is important to find a balance just as you would in any other aspect of your life.

According to the Pew Research Center survey, 76 percent of teenagers reported using social media. Social media and online engagement is proven to be a powerful tool with enormous benefits when it is used in a positive and transformative way. Be careful to not allow these tools to reduce establishing meaningful human interactions.

It is important for parents and adults caring for youth to be aware of how much time is being spent online through these various social media platforms and online applications.

To learn more about youth-serving programs, visit https://kenosha.uwex.edu/youth-development/.