By: David L. Hill, MD, FAAP
When you think of social media, do you immediately envision Facebook? If so, you’re not alone because Facebook continues to serve more active users by far than any other social media platform.
If your first thought is Facebook, chances are you count yourself among the Boomers or Generation X. Facebook is the platform where parents and grandparents share news about children and grandchildren who would never consider having their own accounts. In 2018, only 15% of teens admitted using Facebook as their primary platform, even as 70% of them use social media daily, according to Common Sense Media. If you want to see what those kids are posting, check Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, at least this week. Next week, they may have moved on.
As pediatricians, we have a responsibility to provide relevant anticipatory guidance, which means keeping up with the latest trends involving infants, children and adolescents. From goat’s milk formula to Heelys (yes, they’re still out there), we have to stay current. While there is a vigorous debate about how social media affect child and adolescent mental health, there is no question that these apps permeate the world of the young and hold a unique power to amplify all the experiences of growing up, both the positive and the negative.
Fortunately, the best way to learn about young people’s social media habits is the most obvious: Just ask. Recently, I learned that my 14-year-old son had achieved a degree of celebrity on TikTok, racking up 400,000 views and 60,000 likes on a 10-second video he shot during gym class. My first question was, “How?!” What had he done to garner so many people’s attention, albeit only 10 seconds of it?
“See, Dad, I was making fun of being an E-boy.”
His answer took me deeper down the rabbit hole of youth culture. “And is that worse than a D-boy but better than an F?”
“No, it’s just a type, like a clique.”
I had to put this in terms I understand: “In ‘The Breakfast Club,’ would it be Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson or Anthony Michael Hall?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess Judd Nelson? Does he wear a lock chain?”
I’m still not sure what an E-boy is, but we had a good conversation about my son’s social world and where he sees himself. I learned that TikTok polices obscene speech and nudity as strictly as it does criticism of Chinese government policy. I also learned that the keys to success on TikTok often involve humor and originality. As a bonus, he showed me his YOLO account, where people solicit anonymous opinions from others about anything. To me, this looked like an irresistible invitation to cyberbullies, but his comments read like a calendar of daily affirmations.
One challenge I face as the parent of five young people ages 14 to 21 is how to best use social media to communicate with them. Last year, Business Insider’s eMarketer column posted that Snapchat had surpassed Facebook in this age group, also eclipsing Instagram, teens’ former favorite social media platform. I had joined both sites to get a peer’s eye view of my kids’ lives and to share with them what I was doing when we were not together. Just as I became passably proficient in posting to Snapchat, my kids turned back to Instagram, posting their safe content for me to enjoy while saving their edgier posts for their “Finstas,” a portmanteau of “faux” and “Instagram.”
Facebook was founded with the imperative to “move fast and break things,” and its successors have taken the motto to heart. There is little hope that any adult, no matter how hip, will be able to stay on top of every social media trend. The good news is that we don’t have to. Instead, we must do what pediatricians are trained to do: Ask young people questions and really listen to their answers. Whether those people are our children, our friends’ children or our patients, they will tell us what we need to know to guide them to the healthiest, most constructive uses of the ever-evolving arsenal of technical tools at their disposal.
Tips from Common Sense Media
- Have your kid use your app store account or an account linked to your email, so you’ll be notified when an app is downloaded.
- Consider making a rule, at least until they’re older, that they can’t download an app or sign up for an online account without asking you first.
- Ask which apps and sites are popular with your teen’s friends. Kids may open up more when they’re talking about someone else
- Share what you’re using. Show them your Facebook page, favorite videos or a game you’re obsessed with. They may be inspired to reciprocate.
This article provided by The American Academy of Pediatrics.