OK, I’ll come clean. I’m pretty obsessed with social media. The gram. The tweets. It’s great. It’s addictive.
And, can you blame me? When I was little, iPhones weren’t even a thing. The arrival of the internet was like a time travelling expedition and me and my friends were the first out of the space ship, stepping into a new world of endless YouTube videos.
But much like your average space mission, there were dangers. And there still are. As cool as the internet is, sometimes we need reminding of what it is and what you’re doing on it.
That’s why I’m writing this.
As a big sister I’ve watched my little brother – now 13 – grow up in a world which knows nothing of dialling up your internet. Or even having no internet at all.
I’ve witnessed my favourite little person on the planet use his phone as if it were surgically attached to his hand at birth, coming face to face with online content I was simply not exposed to when I was his age. Violence. Pornography. Drug-taking. It can be scary.
Research has shown (sorry to say it) that excessive use of social media can actually make you feel a bit down. Emily McDool from the University of Sheffield, found that children who spend lots of time online are less happy about key elements in their life and that every extra hour spent on social media there’s a 14% fall in the level of happiness.
I realised that people my age – I’m in my twenties – with a knowledge of social media, have a responsibility to parents who have no idea how to manoeuvre a Snapchat account. And we have a responsibility to kids too, who are just as obsessed and in love with social media as we were.
How to put an Instagram account on private, know when it’s OK to say “no” to the latest craze, how to deal with unpleasant things you can be faced with online – these are all things me and my friends learnt the hard way.
So I thought I’d share some advice with you, focusing on the social media giants teenagers are likely to want to use: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. These are all platforms I use daily (sometimes, I admit, religiously) yet all have the potential to be a bit weird at times if you don’t use them sensibly.
While I was working on this article I asked my friends what they thought – I thought having views other than my own might help clarify what I’m saying here (and make it sound less like I’m lecturing you). So I’ve added their thoughts too. I hope this helps…
If it’s online, it’s never really private
Putting your account on private is a must. This means people who you have not accepted as a friend will not be able to view your profile. Privacy is an option on all social media sites, and is always located in your Settings. Once you do this you are a lot safer online.
However, that doesn’t mean your posts are completely private…
Think about the number of followers or friends you have on your account. Would you communicate what you’re putting on social media to a room full of these people? That’s effectively what you’re doing, you just can’t see them.
- Smartphones users can screenshot whatever is on the screen, at any time. So, even if you delete something you’ve posted, if someone has taken a screenshot they can share it with whoever they want.
- Extreme emotions or language can become very public, very quickly. Keep your outbursts off social media!
- Be mindful of posting images of you or others wearing revealing or just less clothing than usual; would you want your grandparents to see that? Your uncle? Your neighbours?
- Sharing how you feel with your friends or family is one thing, but sharing your inner feelings with the world on social media isn’t the best idea. Do you want everyone knowing what you’re thinking and feeling – and discussing it with others?
- If you’re unsure about something ask a few friends, parents or older siblings to see what they think. Ask more than one person to get different opinions!
Sammy, 22, said: “Even ‘private’ messages online aren’t really private. I’ve slipped up before when someone’s read my private conversations and made what I said public. If you want to share something private with a friend, wait until you see them!”
Online comments hurt in the real world
Just because something is online, doesn’t mean it’s not real. The ‘just turn it off’ approach isn’t realistic; if it upsets you, it’s just as real as anything else.
- If you’re faced with something hurtful online, tell a parent or someone you trust. Don’t keep quiet or think it doesn’t matter, it does. Talking will help make it better.
- Be mindful of the person on the receiving end of your comments. Even though you can’t see the person you’re ‘speaking’ to online remember that they can still be affected by what you say. Imagine you’re on the receiving end of what you’re about to post. How would it make you feel?
- Comments can actually be more hurtful online, because they’re so public. Think about it, everyone can see what you write and it doesn’t vanish into the past like a spoken comment would. The evidence is there for people to revisit and even join in and comment on if they want to.
- Again, imagine you are saying everything you are saying on social media right now on a stage, surrounded by friends and family. Would you think twice?
Ben, 22, said: “Spreading stuff or being mean to people online is sometimes worse than in real life. It’s really embarrassing for that person, so please don’t do it! No matter how easy it would be.”
Pretending to be someone you’re not can get stressful
Acting differently online to how you would offline can sometimes make you feel like you have to keep this up. Don’t put that pressure on yourself.
- Don’t say things online you wouldn’t normally say in the real world. Don’t be rude or threatening to people or act differently to how you would offline.
- Being unpleasant online can actually turn pretty serious. If someone gets the police involved, they can investigate everything you’ve ever put online! Sometimes on social media, it can be hard to tell when someone is joking. A comment taken the wrong way could get you into trouble.
- Pretending to be overly confident or aggressive online might make people expect you to act like that in ‘real life’, which you may not want to.
Jessica, 21, said: “I used to try and keep up with loads of professional models on Instagram by trying to post pictures similar to theirs. I soon realised I didn’t want to keep doing this – it was taking up loads of my time – but I felt the pressure to keep at it. Eventually, I cried a lot and deleted my account. I don’t do that anymore!”
Don’t compare yourself to others online
Unfortunately, a lot of people post things on social media that are not entirely true. They only post the best bits of their life – the bits they want the world to see.
Imagine a day where you’ve stayed in a hotel and had a lovely breakfast (with sugar lumps and the lot), verses a day you just had toast. Which are you more likely to take a picture of and post on Instagram?
Someone might post pictures of their fashionable lifestyle and expensive shopping trips, but really, they might not be very happy. Or the girl who posts pictures of herself at a party with loads of friends, but who just misses her grandma. You never know the full story so don’t think you have to compete with something that probably isn’t real.
- Nobody is perfect; some people might take a picture in a mirror which makes them look thinner or more tanned than they really are. Or they may use a filter that make them look ‘better’ than they think they would normally.
- Don’t compare yourself with people online, because you’re probably comparing yourself to something unrealistic!
Jack, 20, said:“Nothing anyone puts on social media is real! And anytime you start to think it is – remind yourself it’s not! That’s what I do anyway.”
Don’t let social media take up all your time
Just because it’s called ‘social’ media, doesn’t mean it’s always great for your social life.
Remember what’s going on around you. Are you missing out on talking to your sister or dad about their day because you’re checking your feed?
Social media should not consume all your time – although it easily can if you let it. Try to put your phone away when you’re spending time with people you care about, or leave it at home when you go out with your friends. It’s easier than you think!
What’s the first thing you do when you get home? What’s the first thing you do when you see something amazing? If the answer involves getting your phone out, maybe this needs to change.
- Keep exercising! Keep doing what you love. Do you still play football as much as you used to, or go to the park with your mates? Don’t let social media take up all yours and your friends’ time.
- Once you get your social media use under control – I’d recommend no more than half an hour a day – spend more time enjoying things that make you feel good. And if you’re doing this, your friends will follow you (and no, not on Instagram – in real life!).
Beth, 21, said: “Do you think you could turn your phone off for 24 hours right now? I tried it – it was harder than I thought. It made me realise how often I went on social media without really thinking about it.”
What I really want to say is just be aware of what you’re doing and saying on the internet. It’s public and it’s huge.
But the internet isn’t a bad thing if you’ve savvy with how you use it.
I mean, Instagram really is amazing – I’ve seen the most amazing places and the most interesting people. You can keep up with fashion week in Paris, pictures of tigers in the wild or the cakes a new bakery in town is making. All in one place – just, wow. That’s something special.
And Facebook? It’s allowed me to keep in contact with people I absolutely wouldn’t have been able to otherwise – people I’ve met through school or on holiday who, without Facebook, I’d probably never have seen again!
I’d say the same for Snapchat, Twitter, Reddit. They’re all great for sending things to make your friends laugh, reading posts that really make you think and finding information that would have been tricky without an online platform.
All I’m saying is, be mindful. Because you want to experience the great bits of social media. Not the bad bits.