The Influence of Social Media in the Next Generation
It cannot be denied that social media has become more popular than ever in today's contemporary society, however its influence is never more noticeable than on the next generation. Young people today are spending almost two hours per day browsing social networks and the average teenager is spending about 27 hours per week online, so it isn't hard to see how social media has become such a prominent part of the next generation's lives. While young people may not see anything beyond the fun of being able to share experiences and interact with others, they should be considering both the negative and positive effects of sites like Facebook and Twitter on their lives and on the long term future of society as a whole.
How is Social Media Bringing Positive Benefits to Young People?
Although the media would have us think that young people's engagement with social media sites is entirely negative, in fact there are numerous positive aspects to bear in mind. There is even an educational value to consider, with teachers being able to more easily communicate and collaborate on projects with their students and pupils being able to access free online resources that can help them to learn and succeed. Almost 60% of students report using social networking sites to discuss relevant educational topics with others and almost half of users talk to their classmates about their assignments. Young people are also more exposed via social media to important world events and issues that affect society today. This can, in turn, encourage them to participate more fully in their communities and to try to make a difference. For example, young Facebook users have reported that they are more likely to participate in voting in elections if they see their friends in the online community also being active political participants. It cannot be denied that social media can actually facilitate political change through the dissemination of information and the mobilisation of groups of like-minded people. Whereas in the past, teenagers rarely watched or read the news, today, thanks to social media hubs, young people are more informed than ever with breaking news often being released on sites like Facebook. Of course, the social and professional benefits of social media sites can also not be denied. By being able to communicate instantly not only with friends in their local area but also those spread all over the world, online teens can boost friendships and strengthen the lines of communication. They can even make new friends from diverse countries and cultures, increasing their cultural awareness. Social media even has a role to play in networking and career enhancement, with sites like LinkedIn helping young people to find employment opportunities and ways of making money.
The Negative Side of Social Media
Unfortunately, for every positive there must be a negative, and many young people fail to appreciate that there is also a downside to social media sites too. Some teenagers spend so long browsing their favourite sites that they neglect their school work, and official figures have proved that those who spend longer on Facebook each day actually find that their grades dip exponentially. One huge drawback to social media is the harm that it can have on admission to universities and future employment opportunities. More admissions officers and employers than ever before now scan the social media profiles of prospective students or employees before accepting them to a college or job. If they observe things such as poor grammar and spelling, profanity, sexism, racism, references to drugs or heavy drinking or any other negative elements of their lifestyle, young people may find that they are prevented from accessing future opportunities. Teenagers today tend to underestimate the amount of personal information that they put online and therefore put themselves at risk of third parties accessing details about their lives which can then be used against them or even make them a victim of cyber crime. By posting details about when they are away from home on social media, young people can even unwittingly make themselves a victim of real-world crime with thieves accessing their property at times when they know that no one is home or sexual predators stalking them by following their activities through social media. Cyber bullying is also becoming a common problem for teenagers with an active social media presence, with around 800,000 young people admitting to having been harassed through Facebook. Another, little appreciated, downside to using social media too frequently is the reduction in face to face interaction with friends and family. This lack of physical social contact can result in low self-esteem, eating disorders, depression and feelings of isolation that can be hard to shake off.
While social media is not going anywhere in the immediate future, it is important to educate the next generation about the pros and cons associated with using these sites so that they can avoid the dangers and exploit the positives.