communication problems due to social media

Are Your Teen’s Communication Problems Due To Social Media?

Since technology is here to stay and billions of us love our media, let’s address something that affects all of us and especially teens: communication problems due to social media. I’m not proposing that social media is bad–it gives unprecedented levels of connection, which is a good thing. But teens spend lots of time online and they don’t know a society without phones. Like the rest of us, they spend more time online and alone than ever before. This affects how they communicate in real life.

Are communication problems due to social media?


Once a child gets a phone, she starts communicating through a screen. The six-to-nine hours a day teens are online means that they aren’t experimenting with socializing.
Whereas in the previous generation, teens were either on the phone having conversations and learning a communication skill, or hanging out in person. Though it looked aimless, Rachel Ehmke at the Childmind Institute makes the point that these interactions actually were fruitful and necessary to learn how to communicate.
In short, today’s teens have communication problems due to social media because they aren’t “experimenting, trying out skills, and succeeding and failing in tons of real-time experiences that kids today are missing out on.”
In basic communication, humans receive instant feedback when they speak. They quickly learn if what they said was well-received, offensive, funny, or confusing based on how people react.
However, in the world of messaging and emailing, one can sit and dwell before responding. That means all the things “I should’ve said,” but didn’t say at the moment get expressed. And this, according to Dr. Donna Wick, makes kids crueler than they would be in person.  “Kids text all sorts of things that you would never in a million years contemplate saying to anyone’s face,” says Dr. Wick, noting that this seems to be especially true of girls, who typically don’t like to disagree with each other in “real life.”
Though social media connects us, relying on it for social connection teaches teens some terrible communication problems. It’s a place for bragging and judgment. Communicating through these platforms makes us worse at listening and terrible at humility.

Although teens are connecting online, they don’t know how to communicate in person.

Studies are showing that the use of social media interferes with face-to-face interaction and communication skills.  Though teens are connecting more, they are developing what Dr. Paul Booth calls “weak ties” with people who agree with us.  Using the internet to meet new friends and stay connected gives teens the false sense of being known. Without real-time interaction, these ties are weak, lacking the depth of face-to-face meetings.
When we meet in person, we learn a whole set of skills. Other people’s reactions, emotions, social and non-verbal cues give us insight into how the interaction is going. When someone is visibly uncomfortable by the last thing we say, we learn how to pivot or ask for clarification. Or if they are biting their lip, we learn that they are nervous. It’s healthy to leave a conversation thinking, “I should’ve said…” because it cultivates reflection.

Social media behavior in real life

The communication problems due to social media extend beyond just the peer group. Unpracticed in face-to-face conversations, many of today’s teens will ignore you as long as they can. There is a lack of respect, confidence, and overall knowledge of proper address. Teenagers fail to realize how disrespectful ignoring the elders in the room is.
Without the practice of face-to-face communication, and teens are scared to speak in front of groups, anxious to approach teachers with questions and avoid talking to elders at all costs.
This came up recently with a  colleague who is in charge of hiring interns. He was shocked to discover that in the interviews, he saw what he described as social media behavior happening real-time–twenty years old and afraid to have conversations. Those who stood out were the ones who could make eye contact!

We owe it to our kids to teach them how to communicate appropriately, online and off

Children are in the developmental stage of life where their brains are forming. Social skills learned in adolescence help them create and maintain healthy relationships. If they strictly learn how to communicate online, they will never learn and practice communication skills in person.
Social media is a great tool when paired with mature communication skills. It allows us to connect, share, and communicate with people all around the world. A perfect balance between proper communication skills and social media etiquette will enable teens to form relationships in person and continue that relationship online.

Talking to your teen every day will increase their confidence and allow them to practice things like body language, eye contact, and respect. And remember, communicating is not all about talking; it’s also essential to give full attention to the person speaking. When talking with your teen, be sure to provide them with your full attention to show them what good listening looks like.

Social media should be a supplement to real-time interactions that develop social skills and connections.
This generation is growing up in a totally different world than we did, but that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. We are all getting used to a digital world and it’s constant opportunities for both connection and distraction. But they don’t know a world without technology, so it’s on us to model communication. To counteract the communication problems due to social media, enforce limits and remember that you are their most impactful role model.

To get some ideas for setting and maintaining screen boundaries, schedule a consultation here with Tame the Teen.

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