Social Media and Other Dangerous Influences on American Youth

Social Media and Other Dangerous Influences on American Youth

Parents have worried for decades about the influence of technology on our youth.-Questions about how to adapt to social media and trends is not new to this generation.-While the internet has transformed society in unimaginable ways, teens have always been the first to adapt to social and technological advances, challenging parents to accept these changes as part of the package in accepting our youth.

Dangerous Influences on American Youth-

Not long ago, a 19 year old client discussed concerns her mother had about social media.  She is a bright, successful college student with a part-time job and has overcome a great deal of social anxiety.  With some irritation she stated, “Why can’t your generation just let our generation make our own mistakes like yours did?”  I thought about the simple wisdom of this.  Generation gaps and differences are nothing new to society.  Social, technological and cultural change/influence has existed throughout history.  Why can’t we let them be?  The obvious answer is because we are parents and it is our job to keep our children safe, looking out for their futures and well-being.  The irony is that every generation of parents has shared the same concern about each new generation.  What is different?  Is it exposure to social media and the internet?  I’d say no-at least not entirely. Like our parents we have evolved to develop a natural concern about our children's futures, including concerns with politics, social changes and world events.

Reviewing social changes in history allows us to compare similar concerns our parents, and their parents shared in relation to progress. 

When Rock and Roll emerged, (Elvis in particular with his provocative dancing), parents were mortified, exclaiming family values and virtue would be ruined.  The list of artists challenging older generations is endless…..the Doors, Pink Floyd, Madonna, Nirvana, Eminen, Lady Gaga, and now even America’s sweetheart has gone bad….Miley Cyrus.  Yes, Miley Cyrus pulled a Britney Spears.  These sweet little girls grew up along with their fan base and dared the world to accept them and their changing value systemsAlmost uncannily similar to what teenagers challenge their parents to do… accept them as they are, unconditionally.  

What about clothing?  Does anyone remember when wearing jeans was not acceptable and good girls wore dresses?  When women put pants on, that was a tough change for society to swallow.  Next came shorter skirts, then mini-skirts.  Tube tops, high heels, bell bottoms, V-necks, padded bras, no bras, bikinis, speedos, ripped jeans, sagging jeans, short shorts, Dove shorts, leggings, muscle shirts, beanie hats, hoods, bra-straps showing, and decaying tennis shoes.   

And changing trends in hair-long hair, spiked hair, colored hair, no hair, pixie cuts, Aqua-Gel, Aqua-Net, side-burns, beards, beehives, perms, hair-picks, man-buns, Mohawks,, feathered hair, and most recently ombre.

The topic of most immediate concern is advancements in technology.  The introduction of the radio-with scandalous story tellers like Orson Wells and War of the Worlds, resulted in suicides and required a national apology for the sensational live broadcast.  Television came along and with each decade, more channels increased opportunities to corrupt our youth. Scandalous programs like American Bandstand, MTV and Soap Operas were once the culprits polluting the minds of adolescents.  Today, there are hundreds of channels with reality TV in the spotlight; but no one is researching or writing articles about what and how much television teenagers are watching.  Now, most youth have access to smartphones, IPads or personal computers with U-Tube, Instagram, Facebook and unlimited access to porn.  The days of monitoring TV time and counting texts messages are over.  Adolescents today are most certainly in a new era, faced with inconceivable, immeasurable exposure to dangerous influence via technological advances.

We can agree that adolescents have been and will continue to be exposed to social change and media.  We were all teenagers, exposed to “dangerous influences”; some of us were more rebellious or more easily influenced than others.  Each of us struggled to form our identities, experienced peer and social pressures, and contemplated our futures.  And like teens today, most of us had to work through our changing relationships with parents.  It was not easy for us and it is certainly not easy for today’s adolescents.  Is social media affecting our youth? Absolutely!  However, it’s important to consider that the internet is no different than the introduction of cable television, cell phones, and home entertainment or computer systems.  Just as we were once the experts in the latest social trends and technology, so are our youth.  

Does this mean we should we stop caring, monitoring or trying to understand social influences and the impact of cultural change on our youth?  Obviously not.  Our job is to protect, love and accept our children unconditionally.  If children do not feel loved and accepted by us, who else will provide this basic but absolutely necessary human need for them?  Further, seeking new ways to connect with youth in their ever-changing world is essential.  History reveals that advances in technology do not retreat or shift backwards; progress forecasts further progress.  Our youth will predictably adapt to developments in technology. Knowing this, parents must be forward thinking in their approach to anticipated change and advancements. 

Neuro-scientists are revealing us that the human brain is changing.  As opposed to having concern or pessimism about what this will mean, we must embrace the undeniable positive changes evolving in our youth.  Themes with today’s adolescents include open mindedness, tolerance, valuing diversity, and genuine concern about the environment.  They are not only concerned about the future but they are able to connect with people in other parts of the world; they are aware of and communicate genuine concern about human suffering on a global scale.  The internet encourages youth to question the validity of facts presented by media and to observe world events in real time.  The potential for positive change through early international connectedness is beyond imagination.

Eric Erickson wisely states in “Childhood and Society” that “healthy families are able to adapt to the changes in society while maintaining family traditions and values”.  Accordingly, parental focus might be best directed at how and what we are doing to support our children in a rapidly changing world which includes social media.   We can learn from this generation how to embrace differences, value tolerance, question the status quo, and most importantly we can learn about unconditional love.  These are the strengths of our youth.  By embracing their emerging values, we can demonstrate that our generation is also evolving: we do not need to repeat mistakes made by many of our parents-rejecting us at a critical moment when unconditional love and acceptance was most needed.   Our generation can be different, better and is also capable of change.  So, in response to an excellent question from a 19 year old, yes, we can allow your Generation to learn from your own mistakes.

 Just don’t blame us for letting you.



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