Even teens recognize the dangers of growing up in a social media world

SNOQUALMIE, Wash -- Teenagers today have never known a world without the internet.

According to a study by Common Sense Media, they spend an average of nine hours a day online. Unlike their parents and grandparents, they are growing up sharing their lives on social media. That has many worried about their development, communication, social skills and long-term happiness.

“Social media is definitely impacting the teens that I see on a regular basis,” Dr. Yolanda Evans said.

As a specialist in kids health at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Evans points to several studies that show high use of social media in kids increases the risk of anxiety, loneliness, depression and low self-esteem.

“Girls tend to be more sensitive to the social media demands being on different accounts and being more active on accounts than boys,” she said. “But I think regardless of your identified gender, you’re still at risk if you’re growing up in this digital age. “

Kids take on social media

Q13 News spoke recently with a group of high schoolers from Snoqualmie about their usage of social media. They admitted to spending several hours a day on their phones and agreed there are a number of downsides that come along with the convenience of technology.

“Recently there was lots of political posts and you could see the climate of the entire school get more stressful,” Mount Si High School senior Chirag Bedullapalli said.

It adds another element to navigating the already awkward hallways of high school.

“If you post something that you shouldn’t have posted,” said Mount Si High junior Max Madani, “then people talk about it and it spreads like crazy.”

With social media, comes a pressure on kids that previous generations never had to deal with.

“A few years ago a hit list was posted,” Mount Si High senior Kylie Gage said. “It ended up being a joke but it was taken really seriously.”

All of the kids said they feel pressure to check their phones and social media accounts throughout the day to keep up with the posts of their peers.

“If you see something light up on your phone you feel like there’s an urge to check it,” Madani said. “Even then if you’re in school or in classes, everyone has their phones.”

Experts say too often, kids look to social media and the likes they receive for validation. But what’s posted online is often carefully curated like a highlight reel and not a representation of real life.

Some schools are taking action

Holly Gerla teaches digital citizenship at Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, a required class for ninth graders, and she doesn’t sugarcoat the reality to her students.

“It’s not necessarily an academic class like our other classes,” she said. “But it really is, to me, the most relevant thing in their life right now, that has an immediate impact.”

The goal is to get kids thinking about more than just what they post, and instead how it is affecting them, their communication, reputation, relationships and well-being.

“We prompt them to pay attention,” Gerla said. “Pay attention to what you’re doing. Be thoughtful about how much time you’re spending. Don’t just be that mindless consumer, but really pay attention to how this is having an impact on you.”

Some students at Charles Wright took it upon themselves to go a step further and ban cellphones at lunch. The feedback has been surprisingly positive.

“Lunch for a while, was a period where people were just taking a mental break from their surroundings and were just scrolling endlessly on their phones,” Charles Wright Academy senior Emily Saletan said. “Now while they get to achieve that mental break, but by being around other people having a more positive productive experience.”

Something experts say is important, finding a balance between the world online and in person. A future where social media is just part of being social.