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Making Friends with Social Media

Facebook was founded in 2004. In 2007, we were introduced to the iPhone, and in many ways, Facebook became the first social media platform engaged in mass by middle school students and older.  

More social media apps quickly followed Facebook, like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, and of course recent additions such as Tik Tok (…and yes, parents, our kids do see you trying to create those short catchy dance videos that have become all the rage!!).   

And while this current generation of teens and young adults have grown up on social media, perhaps in new ways, March and April of 2020 has been a time where they have been forced to “live” there. (Along with their parents…as shown by all the Tik Tok videos.)

Over the last 2 months, there have been many reasons to celebrate life on social media. Students have been interacting with messages and lessons from important mentors in their youth groups. Friends have created positive memories and experiences that have brought joy to others who are physically alone. And college students have had the opportunity to create memories, and experience events that seemed to be lost when school ended suddenly at the beginning of the pandemic. So many good things to celebrate on social media. 

But while social media has been used to bring people together, it has also moved people apart… from others as well as from themselves. 

Jean Twenge, a social psychologist from San Diego State University and author of the book iGen, has done extensive work on the effects of new digital media and the mental and emotional health of young people. Here is what she found:  

From 2010 to 2016, adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode increased by 60%.  

She also found that kids who spent three hours or more a day on smartphones were 34% more likely to have experienced at least one suicide related outcome (depression, considering suicide, making a plan, or making an actual attempt)​ than kids who spent two hours or less on their phones each day. Kids who spent 5 hours a day or more were 48% more likely to experience a suicide related outcome.

At the same time, Twenge discovered that kids who spent more hours per week in sports and other forms of exercise, attending religious services, reading books and other print media, in-person social interactions, and homework showed lower rates of depression.

While social media has been used to bring people together, it has also moved people apart… from others as well as from themselves.

 

Get more mental health resources from Briercrest:

 

It is hard not to see the correlation: more time on screens, greater risk of poor mental health; less time on screens and more time being active and physically present with people, greater chance of better mental health.

It seems that our social media platforms may actually hinder the benefits of being social. So how do we “make friends” with our social media?

1. Don’t rush throw away their phones…at least not yet.  

Twenge found that kids who spent less than 2 hours per day on their devices and/or kids who spent above average time in face to face social interactions were generally unharmed by their digital engagement.

So, instead of simply tossing our devices, let’s track our time on our devices. Most devices have built in software to track how much time, and where that time is spent on our phones. Make a commitment as a family or with friends to track your use for a week, then sit down and talk honestly about how much time you have spent on the device, why you have spent that time, and how you think it has affected you.  

Try not to judge or attack, but rather listen and discuss. At the same time, track your physical activity and physical social interactions. Talk about the positive and negative effects of both experiences.  

2. Commit to shared physical activity

One of the things we have done as a family is make a commitment to a shared “physical activity time” most days.  

At the beginning of the week, choose what those experiences will be. We’ve played games (since my last blog, I've been growing in my Spike Ball skills), had competitions (my wife still wins at 21 on our outdoor hoop), and gone for walks and hikes. It’s not always easy getting our boys out the door, but moods change as bodies move!

3. Gather with your community

Where possible and appropriate, engage relationally with others. This may be a curbside conversation or a drive-by service project.

Again, moving, serving, and communicating wins the day. You can read more on how to 'close the gap' on social distancing and serve together as a family here.

4. Prioritize real online interactions

Finally, enjoy appropriate times online engaging good content, but when possible, let your online time be conversational and interactive. I know many of us are experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” and for good reason, but at least on Zoom, there is “real time” two-way communication and interaction.

When possible, make it fun. There are all sorts of “Zoom games” families can play with other friends that can build great shared experience, making the most of the times we have been given!

Because we are so aware of how we are spending our time these days, and so aware of the time we are not allowed to spend together, this can be a great time to learn and teach the skills of assessment, discernment, and discipline.

 
More digital discernment resources from Briercrest:

 

If we are intentional about how we relate now, it will help us build the skills that will allow us to relate even better later on, with others and with ourselves as well. 

Sid Koop

Sid Koop is an alumnus of Briercrest Seminary who has been involved in youth ministry for over 19 years. He is the founder and executive director of Truth Matters, a ministry devoted to helping the next generation see and experience the truth of Jesus Christ. He is a key member of the Renegotiating Faith research partnership. Currently, Truth Matters runs 8 youth worker training conferences across Canada each year under the title Canadian Youth Workers Conference.

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Mental Health Technology
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