Is Social Media a Savior for Shy Teens?

“Teens These Days Can’t Communicate”

We hear comments like this all the time when talking about teen cell phone and internet use with parents, educators and even employers. The above might be true for some kids but we don’t want to be too quick to condemn online activity as a destroyer of this generation’s social skills. For some kids, it may be the opposite.

teen-cell-phoneIt is definitely the case that some folks are worried that the end of communication skills is happening. Consider the experience of the Ridgewood New Jersey school district, which this year announced a program in which every student will be issued a laptop. The story was covered by the Bergen Record, and in the comments section following the story (commenting has since been suspended), a number of readers said things along the lines of, “These kids don’t even know how to have a conversation any more.” “They are looking down at their phones all the time.” “Giving them more technology isn’t the answer.”

For some kids, technology is the answer.

Our heads are not in the sand on this issue. Let us grant a few points before we continue:

  • Some kids spend way too much time online, either on their phone or on other electronics
  • For some, verbal communications skills have suffered
  • Some elements of online communications, including anonymity and bad group behavior can be very negative

That being said, for a long, long time – since well before the invention of the internet and the current crop of electronics – there have been kids who are unable to socialize face to face at the same level that comes easily to many of their peers. Shyness, awkwardness, fear of crowds or a feeling of inadequacy can all lead an individual to lead a solitary existence rather than seeking out friends. For many, social media has changed that.

Online, you can express what you’re interested in, what you’re passionate about or whatever is on your mind on social media or apps, either under your own name or anonymously, in many cases without the fear of being judged. This is a monumental change for those unwilling or unable to get the ball rolling face-to-face.

Would we prefer to see kids communicate in person as opposed to online? Sure, but the decision is not up to us, and to some extent it’s not up to parents either. Once teens have internet access and cell phones, a large swath of their life is going to move online. If their online life offers them opportunities for interaction that are otherwise unavailable, that’s a good thing.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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