As a teenager there are many pressures to contend with. The social and academic pressures of school life, maybe the stress of leaving one school for another, fitting in, being accepted and acceptable, studying, keeping family happy with your progress, are all potentially stressful considerations.
Then, of course, there may be stresses at home, family concerns, problems with siblings and the personal issues that often accompany being a teenager; feeling different, uncertain about themselves, comparing themselves to others, fear of missing out.
Social media is a natural part of life for many people with statistics regularly being reported on its usage. Analysts say we check our mobile phones every 12 minutes and spend an average of 3 hours 15 minutes every day on the internet, mostly on sites owned by Google and Facebook.
Whilst it's valuable to be connected to the bigger world outside there are also worrying aspects about the internet and especially around social media that cause concern regarding its influence on teenagers.
Social media can be a force for good or bad. Certainly chat rooms and forums can be a great place for someone who feels friendless and alone, with no one to talk to about how they're feeling. Finding reassurance, answers to questions from people experiencing similar issues can stop a teenager feeling alienated, isolated and alone.
It can also help us tap into unexpected audiences, reach people we would never have been able to introduce ourselves to and, as a consequence, their friends. We have the potential with social media to speak to a vast audience, a community of like-minded people.
But there are others aspects of social media which are not so rosy. A degree of caution needs to be exercised. Living in a virtual world where we're constantly checking our phones can persuade us that online is the real world, where the things we see and are being told there are the truth.
Which is why it's important to;
– Choose who to follow with caution and recognize what their agenda might be. Be alert to the dangers of being groomed by someone who's not who or what they claim to be, is encouraging you to do things you're not comfortable with. Or maybe they're aiming to become an influencer, are allied to specific products, gradually introducing and recommending certain goods or services, courting new followers and essentially running sales pitches. Step back and notice what's really going on.
– Remember it's your call , you can unfollow if you want to. If something doesn't suit you anymore or you've become unhappy at what you're regularly seeing you can choose to disengage and stop it. And if posts are appearing that you don't like, that distress you, affect you negatively or you're uneasy about trust your gut and block them. It's your device, your media stream; close the door and don't let them in.
– Set a limit for your time online, and use that time more efficiently. Yes, you may see your online family as a real, key element of your life, relationships that are genuine and supportive. It's the only place you can be yourself and you need to keep that in your life, but actual person-to-person relationships are important too. Many people increasingly work, shop and manage their lives online, so it can provide less and less reason to leave the house. But relationships, learning to interact with others, develop social skills, understand yourself better all require some movement away from devices and an engagement in face-to-face communications.
– Meet others in person and experience the spontaneity and diversity of life. Incorporate personal development and growth by accepting that sometimes things may not go so well. You may make mistakes, be rejected, look silly. That's fine, it's part of life and an important way to evolve and mature as a person.
– Take charge and decide not to spread negativity and gossip on your social media feed. Commit to share only good news. You may think one person on their own cannot make much difference but when each of us takes a stand we can sprinkle sunshine in our tiny corner of the world. Be the person who shares positivity, good results and happiness. Influence, maybe in a small way, your social media feed, your world, your audience.
– Step outside your comfort zone. Join a class, a gym, a group. Visit the same places regularly and you'll find you start to meet the same people. Get used to making an effort, dressing smarter, having to turn up promptly – a different set of skills which are required in offline modern life. Challenge yourself each day.
In the same way you've found your place and have been accepted online remember too to keep a tentative toe in the offline world and allow yourself to get to know many of those people who equally share your concerns and insecurities. Watch how others behave together, pick up some hints and tips, so learning different ways to contribute to conversations, enhance your social skills and develop a more confident approach to each area of life.