A Look at Social Media and Middle School

The slippery slope between the real world and a distorted view of reality
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If you have been through middle school parenting, you may have noticed that strange things seem to happen to a tween’s brain the first day they walk into middle school. One might sum up their main goals in life this way:

* To be funny at all costs. Hence, the silly bathroom jokes, talking at inappropriate times in class, and the anything-it-takes-to-be-popular attitude.

* To focus on self, including their clothes, their nose, their body, their hair, and so on.

* To try new things, which can include playing dress-up with their identity and trying on things to see what fits. 

* To be impulsive and scattered. They are up and they are down. It may seem that they have regressed in their development on a quest for independence.

During this time of development is when we as parents cave. Maybe we do it because we are exhausted from their constant begging for a phone, or because we think that all their friends have one, or because we want to upgrade ours to the latest model. We act on impulse. Our brain seems to regress like theirs, and we give them our old smartphone. With that one little decision comes the world of social media access. 


Perils of the Middle School Mind and Social Media

Because during the tween and early teen years, the midbrain is reorganizing itself, and risk-taking is high and impulse control is low, it’s a tender time in a child’s life to have access to social media. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. Social media was not designed for them. It takes a certain level of maturity to navigate social media. Middle-schoolers underdeveloped frontal cortex, along with their lack of impulse control, can’t manage the distractions and temptations that social media offers. 

2. Social media is an addictive entertainment technology. It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for the future. It is  a marketing platform, extracting bits and pieces of personal information and preferences from your child every time they use it.

3. A tween’s “more is better” mentality is a dangerous match for social media. Social media encourages them to overdo screen time like they tend to overdo other things in their lives.

 4. Social media replaces learning the hard work of socializing face-to-face with peers, a skill needed to be successful in real life.

5. Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family and instead view “friends” as their foundation. While they need attachments to friends, healthy family attachment is important.

6. Social media use represents lost potential for tweens. When their brain development is operating at peak performance for learning new things, it is easy to waste too much time and creativity in the abyss of the digital world.


So what to do?

First, rethink what you as a parent are allowing your child to do. Here are a few tips that work well for many parents.

1. Delay access. The longer parents delay access, the more time a child has to mature so that he or she can use technology more wisely as a young adult.

2. Create family accounts instead. This allows kids to keep up with friends in a safer social media environment.

3. Plan more face-to-face time with their friends. They crave social gatherings, so encourage them. 

4. Spend more non-tech time together as a family. Teens who are strongly attached to their family show more overall happiness and success in life. 


Don’t give that smartphone all the power in your home. Help tweens choose healthier forms of entertainment. They have the rest of their life to be entertained by social media, but only a limited time with you.


For more help balancing social media use from Melanie Hempe of Families Managing Media go to familiesmanagingmedia.com.