If social media empowers any group of people more than others, it is both a powerful leverage and a megaphone for the youths. Social media has given the youths the kind of power that could never have been possible in years past. The information age has created more youthful CEOs and influencers made in this information age than in the previous generations. In fact, social media is the ‘new media’ has empowered online conversations between and among people and businesses. Social media communities are clusters and online communities where people irrespective of age can communicate and interact with one another in clusters of online communities. Most commonly include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter to LinkedIn and Facebook among others. Apart from social networking sites, there are also many mobile chat messaging applications where friend and people connect with one another. Facebook is the most popular social network in the world and Facebook Inc. controls more social networking communities like Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger etc.
However while social media largely empowers a lot of youths, a segment of youth require proper nurturing and attention to ensure the impact of social and digital technology remains largely positive. As adults grapple with the social changes that herald the intersection of digital and social media across life, children born into the information and social media revolution will respond differently and businesses and organizations are spending a lot of money to understand how this affects their businesses. Particularly for parents who have no idea how to understand adolescence and the teenage years, the things teens know and do today among themselves will shock any parent born in the fifties. This and more informed CNN’s project “#Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens,” a first-of-its-kind CNN study on social media and teens. The study was conducted with eighth graders at eight different schools in six states across the United States. Participating students, with the permission of their parents, registered their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts through a secure server created by Smarsh, an electronic archiving company contracted by CNN. The study’s co-authors, along with their teams, analysed an estimated 150,000 social media posts collected over a six month period. In addition, the teens also answered a number of survey questions about their use of social media and their perceptions about it and their relationship with others.
According to child clinical psychologist and co-author of the research Marion Underwood who is, teens are more addicted to the peer connection and affirmation they’re able to get via social media. ‘’The need for acceptance makes them want to know what each other is doing, where they stand, to know how many people like what they posted, to know how many people followed them today and unfollowed them … that I think is highly addictive. This is an age group that has a lot of anxiety about how they fit in, what they rank, what their peer-status is”. From the research, 61% of the teens said they wanted to see if their online posts are getting likes and comments. 36% of teens said they wanted to see if their friends are doing things without them while 21% of teens said they wanted to make sure no one was saying mean things about them. One of the major conclusions of the research was that teens are influenced largely due to need to meet and monitor their own popularity status and to defend themselves against those who challenge it. Is this true for Nigeria and Africa? While we have very few and far between studies, the newspapers are replete with cases that require attention.
Showing up, Believing the False Life
Social media thrives on interactions and content updates and the need to always share updates on our lives with others thereby making some feel the pressure and the need to show up. This has given the massive make-believe life commonly perceived online and the breeding of envy in the lives of others who perceive they are living a life less than others. An Australian teenager, Essena O’Neill recently brought this to life when she announced she is quitting social media because the addiction left her feeling empty and ‘consumed’. Before the announcement, she was an eighteen year- old already making about two thousand Australian dollars a post with more than 600,000 followers on Instagram, 260,000 subscribers on YouTube, a large following on Snapchat and Tumblr. She essentially looked back through most of her over 2,000 images and began to call out how she faked the life of the rich and successful by manipulating images and scenarios in order to look better than her colleagues and make money from self-promotion.
Cyber-bullying and online aggression are some of the secret battles teenagers fight. These can range from teasing, intimidating comments and outright insults and threats of violence that they leave as comments on each other’s accounts. So many have a distorted perception of themselves a result of the non-acceptance from their peers. I recall a parent complaining about her daughter unfriending her on Facebook after a disagreement. Is this how teenagers treat themselves?
Even for adults, sharing pictures especially nudes with people they have know or never met is highly dangerous and one of the social problems in the age of social media communications. I recalled being asked by a JSS3 student if sharing pictures with her German boyfriend was fine. If her parents were listening to our conversation, they’d have been depressed. Every day and across social space, so many people who secretly shared pictures and sending ‘sext’ messages are regretting the public shaming by men or women who once professed to be a friend or loved one.
What we need to do
Youth organizations, churches and mosques as well as other institutions need to continually work to provide children with proper role models and methods to work with. There also needs to be a regular showcase of the right examples and the possibilities of what youths and teens can do with digital and social media. A lot of youths across the world are leveraging this powerful technological tools to make a difference, we cannot afford to be spectators.