Developing Digital Intelligence: An Adolescent’s Guide to Social Media

Teenager smiles while sitting on bed in decorated bedroom, legs crossed, using laptopAs an adolescent, navigating the digital world can be both exciting and stressful. In a world where technology reigns, it is nearly impossible to avoid the draw of engaging with peers on social media or through texting.

While technology makes it possible to connect with friends, keep up with the latest news, and be socially aware, there are a lot of potential challenges for young people as they engage in the digital world. It is important for adolescents to learn healthy ways of engaging in social media so it is a positive experience that enhances relationships and builds self-confidence.

Here are some helpful tips for “tweens” and teens to keep in mind before logging in:

1. Online friendships: Focus on quality over quantity.

It is not unusual for adolescents to focus on the number of friends or followers instead of the quality of relationships with each person friended or followed. It is important to recognize connecting with people you don’t know (or don’t know well) may open the door for potential safety concerns and other issues.

  • Tip: It’s okay to say no. Getting a friend/follower request on social media can be exciting. But just because someone wants to connect with you on social media doesn’t mean you should accept. If you aren’t real-life, in-person friends, consider carefully whether you want them to have access to your thoughts and information before accepting their request. Remember there are a lot of people out there who pose as others and have negative intentions.
  • Tip: Face to face always works best. It is impossible to get a sense of someone’s tone or meaning through technology. So, when it comes to important conversations, don’t engage digitally. Instead, make time to talk with your friend in person. Having those in-person conversations will build trust and connection with your friends. Best advice: Avoid posting when upset. When we are upset, we react and may say things we don’t mean and that can create long-term damage to meaningful relationships. Before you post or hit send, take a step away from your device and cool down. Then, revisit your comment. Chances are you will be happy you thought twice.
  • Tip: Don’t say or do something online you wouldn’t say or do in person. A phone or computer screen can give a false sense of security and can cause us to forget that real damage can be done as a result of our online words and/or behaviors. Before you post or sext, ask yourself, “Would I do or say this in person?” If the answer is no, don’t do it. Also, remember once you put something out there, you lose control over who has access to it.

2. Privacy: Are you sure you want that out there?

Everything you post online has a long digital lifespan and is far-reaching. Think before you post. Do you really want everyone, including your potential future employers or parents, to see pictures of you at that party over the weekend? Do you really want everyone to know you are fighting with your friend? Some moments and memories are best left offline.

  • Tip: Watch what you share. It can be fun to share pictures of you and friends having a good time. And, naturally, the most outrageous posts and pictures get the most likes. But know that anyone can access those pictures once they are posted and save and share them with others. It’s not like the old saying “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” What you put out there stays out there, and once it spreads, it is impossible to rein back in. A good rule of thumb is to think, “Would I want my parents, employer, or future college administrators to see this?” If the answer is no, don’t share.
  • Tip: Know about privacy settings. Don’t forget sites like Facebook have privacy settings so you can control who sees what. Don’t forget to check out your settings and make sure they match your digital values.

3. Rumors: Regain control.

Remember, if you wouldn’t want the rumor being spread to be said about you, don’t repeat it.

In the good, old days—yes, I said it—a person could leave drama and gossip at school. But thanks to technology and social media, it is almost impossible to escape the drama. Words can be like weapons and can cause people a lot of pain. Remember, if you wouldn’t want the rumor being spread to be said about you, don’t repeat it.

  • Tip: Remove yourself from the situation. If someone posts a mean comment about you, there are several things you can do. You can report it as online abuse. You can delete it from your page and un-tag yourself from the post. If there is a picture you don’t want out there, un-tag yourself and ask the person who posted it to delete it. Also, remember that responding and engaging with a cyberbully, although tempting, usually escalates the situation and feeds into their goal. Best advice: take a vacation from social media!
  • Tip: Speak up. If you or someone you know is being cyberbullied, speak up. Inform your parent or guidance counselor and get the appropriate help. Know cyberbullying affects everyone differently and can have long-term and sometimes irreversible consequences.
  • Tip: Be a role model. Make sure you are engaging in healthy online activity and are sharing positive and kind things online.

4. Self-Image: Create an online presence you can be proud of.

Does your online persona match who you are offline? Remember that what you text or post paints a picture of who you are as a person. Make sure you are portraying a person you can be proud of and who represents you fully.

  • Tip: Think before you post. Take a moment to think before you post or text something. If there is any question about how something might be perceived, don’t share it.
  • Tip: Share things that make you happy and feel good. Not only will it make you happy, but you just may cheer someone else up!

Technology can be a great way to connect with others, but it doesn’t come without challenges. Follow these tips to help you stay safe, happy, and healthy online and off.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Katelyn Alcamo, LCMFT, therapist in Bethesda, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 6 comments
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  • Corie

    Corie

    May 9th, 2017 at 11:19 AM

    The thing that is the most terrifying is how quickly these rumors can get out of control. You think that it is just there for an instant and then disappears but i try to tell that that online footprint somehow someway will last forever. These are the things that can follow you around forever. It just goes to show that your actions from the past can always always come back to haunt you no matter how careful you think that you are.

  • Trevor

    Trevor

    May 10th, 2017 at 11:31 AM

    Once you hit that send or share button, that is when the most remorse can come in and by then, it’s too late to change it. It’s out there for the world to see, so you have to be careful all the way around with the choices that you make and what you choose to share or not.
    I think that the best advice is to always stop and think for a good half hour before just automatically putting it out there. But for some of us I know that that temptation is too great to share with the world.

  • merritt

    merritt

    May 12th, 2017 at 12:46 PM

    You would think that our children would be so much smarter about this than what they actually are and I think that on an intellectual level they have that capability, but it is that emotional immaturity that they do not yet understand that keeps them continuing to make poor online decisions.

  • Rachel G

    Rachel G

    May 13th, 2017 at 8:56 AM

    I find it hard to have conversations with my tween girls and their friends because it feels like every time I try to tell them something or encourage them about something or the other the replies that I get are “I know.”
    They all think that they already know everything and I have to be honest that there are times that this one simple little phrase frustrates me beyond belief.
    I just want to look them firmly in the eye and tell them no, you don’t know as much as you think that you do.

  • Kate

    Kate

    May 15th, 2017 at 9:01 AM

    Hi Rachel,
    I think that yours is such a common experience, unfortunately. Sometimes it can be helpful to approach tweens/teens with curiosity as they tend to shut down when they feel like they are being told to do something. Sometimes I will ask my clients about their experiences and/or experiences their friends have had and what that has been like and what they have learned. I ask them about what they really like about social media and also what challenges they have had. Sometimes they open up when they see it as a discussion, not a lecture, and when they feel that you want to learn from them. The truth is, even though I am pretty tech aware now, thanks to my teen clients, I know that I still have a lot to learn from them and I find that they appreciate that curiosity and are then more likely to be open to suggestions I might have.

  • benjamin

    benjamin

    May 17th, 2017 at 11:02 AM

    I started to have this feeling that my girls were trying to hide their online behavior from their mom and me and so we made their rooms a no screen zone. No tv, no phone, no computer in their bedrooms. They would have to somehow manage all of that while in a common area of the house where all of us are. They hate it, I get it, but I have a better sense of who they are talking to and what is going on. If they show me that they can handle the responsibility then I will eventually gladly hand more of that over to them. Until then, their screen time has to be with my watchful eyes and ears all around them.

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