The Growing Concerns about Teens' Media Use

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Technology developers and creators have been trying to improve and provide what’s best for consumers of all ages. Teens can use media to establish social connections, express themselves, be entertained, and acquire new knowledge. Furthermore, media can educate teenagers on topics such as healthy habits, school research, and current events, allowing them to engage across different cultures and expose them to the rest of the world.

Teenagers are highly capable of becoming savvy internet users. They do not just accept everything they witness and read at face value, but they do need help understanding how to be responsible media consumers. As a parent, you are expected to assist them in developing the knowledge, abilities, and attitudes they need to deal with the ever-growing media influence and concerns. But first, you have to understand how media affects teens, so you can come up with strategies to manage its use at home.

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The Heavy Influence of Media on Children

The availability and ease of access to gadgets create higher chances of getting influenced by the media. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “influence” as a power that can cause an effect on someone. One of the most common influences nowadays is rooted in media use.

Media influence is information that affects the behaviors and ways of thinking of users and consumers. Unfortunately, when we talk about media influence, it is more often associated with its negative consequences than its benefits. One of the main reasons for that is called “media responsibility.”

Because of media influence, many teenagers are exposed to inappropriate sexual acts, violence, and offensive language. Without sufficient parental supervision, these malicious themes can develop inside the teenage brain, making them think that such actions are appropriate for their age. That is why most media platforms are highly influential on a child’s cognitive and behavioral development.

According to researchers from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, media use has a great potential to influence consumers through television, the Internet, music, and video games. Parents must be aware that media can have a significant impact on their children’s psychological development if used inappropriately.

How Teens Use Media

Before the emergence of social media, people watched TV, listened to the radio, and played video games on their consoles. These were some of the most popular entertainment platforms in the 1990s. However, the continuous development of social media apps opened more avenues for media consumers. For example, people shifted from watching the news on TV to reading about them on Facebook, or from listening to the radio to streaming music on YouTube.

Many teenagers’ lives are influenced by social media presence since more than half of the world population has Internet access. According to a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center with over 750 teens aged 13-17 as respondents, 45% of them were almost always online, and 97% used social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. Through these sites, teens feel more involved with the world and can easily talk to their peers. Social media and technology have also encouraged students to communicate with their study groups.

Importance of Media to Teenagers

Social media is essential because it allows people to connect, interact, and engage with friends and family regardless of their location. Teens may also interact quickly with other people through social media and share their life through photographs, videos, and status updates. Teens view these platforms as essential tools for forming and keeping friendships and relationships, being creative, and knowing more about the world. These social connections may also be beneficial to socially excluded people who suffer from chronic diseases that separate them from the outside world. 

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Social media also has a prominent role in the dissemination of information and opinions. The survey results from the Pew Research Center show that almost half of the teenage population post their achievements, emotions, feelings, relationships, and even political and religious views. Furthermore, it also allows them to show their creative side by posting their art and talents while finding their identity as growing teenagers.

The Effects of Media Use on Teen’s Behavior

The primary goals of media are entertainment and communication. However, the lack of consumer responsibility can overshadow the benefits and make media look like a “negative influence” in today’s world. There are many consequences surrounding media use and influence, and some of the most prominent are teenage violence and mental health problems. No matter the age group or gender, everyone is at risk of getting influenced by media, but teens are particularly vulnerable. Studies prove that the violent themes portrayed in most films, television programs, and video games can somehow affect the teenage brain. This can make teens become less sensitive to violence and even imitate the actions of what they watch.

Video gaming is a popular type of entertainment, with recent data showing over three billion hours spent in front of screens each week by video gamers. Scientists have studied how video games can influence someone’s behavior after excessive use, especially violent games. According to new research, spending at least 10–20 minutes interacting with violent gaming can increase brain activity in areas linked to anxiety and emotional response. At the same time, there is a decrease in activity in the frontal lobes linked to emotion regulation and executive function. According to experts, the dopamine release caused by gaming can be so intense that it may nearly shut down the prefrontal areas of the human brain.

Moreover, an increase in online hours may be linked to cyberbullying practices. Because of online anonymity, people often tend to exhibit aggression, heavy criticisms, and bullying on Facebook, Twitter, and the likes. Since they cannot see the immediate consequences of their acts, cyberbullies may experience less regret or empathy while engaging in these activities.

Due to excessive exposure to different forms of media, people are also at risk of developing avoidant personality disorder (APD), which is often mistaken as social anxiety. The symptoms of APD are extreme social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and sensitivity to harsh criticisms and rejections. It goes beyond being timid or socially uncomfortable; a person with APD may be hesitant to speak up in social situations for fear of saying something inappropriate.

How Media Influencers Actually Influence Teens

Nowadays, the constant use of media among teens makes them rely on the information provided by social influencers and celebrities. Not all information posted by celebrities is accurate, yet teens often trust them more than their parents, teachers, and even legitimate news sources.

It should be noted that these types of posts are usually tailored to the celebrity’s benefit. Sometimes, people do not bother to do some research and validate the information. Most political and religious views are heavily biased. Oftentimes, teens just go with what their favorite celebrities have to say.

In addition, most Hollywood films and popular music celebrate and normalize the use of addictive substances, giving teenagers the impression that they are “cool.” The portrayal of illegal drugs and alcohol on various social media platforms can significantly impact a teenager’s perspective. Because of these tendencies, teens are at risk of experimenting and becoming addicted. That is why the number of teen drug rehab patients increases more and more each day.

Help Your Child Manage Their Media Presence

Since the original goal of media is to provide entertainment, information, and communication, there are things you can do to turn the negative influences into positive ones. With your guidance, you could manage your teen’s media presence and consumption for their benefit.

It might be challenging to know how to safeguard your child from harmful media effects. You may strike a balance that doesn’t limit their pleasure of media by establishing a few ground rules. Here are a few methods to keep children safe from the dangers and risks of media use:

  • Set time limits for TV, video games, movies, and social media. If necessary, secure their devices with passwords so they cannot access them without your permission.
  • Check their online activity from time to time. The Internet is a massive community of people and information, so it is crucial to know if the stuff they are browsing is safe.
  • Keep your child away from media that portrays violence and other harmful behaviors.
  • Make some time to engage with your child when using media.
  • Explain the possible dangers of excessive and irresponsible use of media.
  • Allow them to make their own decisions and clearly explain the possible consequences.
  • Communicate with your child. Talking to them is essential to establish trust in their use of media.

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