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Challenging social media myths

By Linda Estep
May 26, 2016
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Let’s face it. Widely held beliefs, often based on fear, are hard to dispel. They can be stubborn adversaries of truth, even when new data presents clear and logical challenges to the contrary.

The time teenagers spend on social media has gotten its share of attention from detractors over the years, but researcher and author danah boyd (who spells her name without capitals) strives to debunk five myths about teens and technology in her book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

Over a span of seven years, boyd interviewed teenagers, parents, teachers, librarians and others about teen social media use. She discovered five myths commonly cited by those who worry about social media’s impact on teenagers.

1. Technology creates social isolation.

Teens reported that they use their devices to connect with people they would actually prefer to spend time with in person if they had the opportunity. The internet has become the new shopping mall, a place to socialize when they can’t meet friends face-to-face. Many teens today don’t have time or are not allowed to roam alone to places like malls or other hang-out spots, which reduces social time with friends. Social media fills that void for many.

2. Teens are addicted to technology and social media.

The word addiction is misplaced here. While teenagers say they enjoy online activity to the point of losing track of time, it is really more a matter of time management than pathology, according to boyd. It's their friends, not the technology, that they are drawn to.

3. Teens have no appreciation of privacy.

Parents worry about prying eyes of strangers when their teenage children post information on the internet that, in the parents’ eyes, ought to remain private. Teens argue that they are more concerned about prying eyes of parents and other adults close to them and turn to social media or texting to avoid being overheard. Helping teens understand and use privacy settings will do far more to protect children than restricting social media.

4Social media puts teens at risk for sexual predators.

According to boyd’s research, there is no evidence that technology or social media has increased incidents with sexual predators. The overall number of sex crimes against minors has steadily declined since 1992, which suggests that the internet has not created a new plague. The key is education, not restriction. All students need to learn basic digital citizenship skills throughout their school years, which are reinforced at home, so they know common-sense safety measures to protect their online identities.

5. Bullying through social media is a huge problem.

Online bullying does exist and at times has ended in tragedy. But boyd says teens report greater distress from in-person bullying at school than online. Again prevention lies in reinforcing digital citizenship skills and creating a culture of respect.

ISTE members can read an in-depth article on screen time in the April issue of entrsekt. Not a member? Join today.