3 Ways Social Media Is Changing Friendships and Bullying

Understanding how technology shapes teen friendships

Happy teen boy on smartphone
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Social media is a central part of life for today’s tweens and teens. It allows them to communicate with multiple friends at one time, make new friends, connect without leaving the house, do group projects without an in-person meeting, and share photos easily. But it also comes with issues too.

Because so much of teen lives are lived online, they are at a greater risk for oversharing, cyberbullying and digital drama.

What’s more, their friendships are much different than the friendships their parents had in school.

On the plus side, more socialization is done online, which means teens are exposed to more people and often have a diverse set of friends. On the minus side, they may lack solid connections with friends because they do not spend much one-on-one time together. Here are three additional ways social media has impacted teen friendships and bullying that parents should be aware of.

Some Friendships Begin Online First

Many times, a teen’s friendships will grow from online conversations. Social media provides them with an avenue for making friends that feels safer to some teens. For instance, it is sometimes easier to strike up a conversation online than it is in person. There is less risk of embarrassment if the other person shows no interest in talking.

Social media also erases geographical boundaries.

In the past, teens often were limited to making friends at school. Now, the Internet gives them access to other people all over the world.

Teens also are making friends through gaming especially boys. While some teens play games with people they know, about half compete against strangers. Consequently, they may experience bullying through gaming systems like the Xbox.

Sometimes with online friendships, people are not who they always say they are, which can be a huge risk for teens. For instance, cyberbullying and catfishing can involve kids pretending to be someone they are not. Additionally, predators often pretend to be someone they are not in order to lure young teens into relationships. As a result, teens should still practice good Internet safety skills and avoid giving out personal information. They also should refrain from meeting people in person unless accompanied by an adult.

Messaging Is the Preferred Communication Method

Most teens prefer to keep in touch with their friends using texting, messaging and video chatting. In fact, very few teens will spend time talking on the phone. They also do not see a need to hang out exclusively in-person. Instead, they rely on social media to catch up with friends and stay connected. By doing so, they are able to stay in touch with friends while handling other tasks like homework, family obligations and extracurricular activities.

The risks with this type of communication are twofold. First, texts and messages can be copied and shared. As a result, if your teen shares personal information through a text or message, or sends an angry message to someone during a disagreement, there is the risk that these comments will be shared publicly. When this happens, your teen risks being cyberbullied or publicly shamed.

Another risk with texting is that messages can easily be misinterpreted. As a result, a message that was meant to be funny may come off as insulting. This then could cause a rift in the friendship. Remind your kids that it is always better to communicate in person when they are dealing with sensitive subjects.

Drama and Bullying Play Out Online

Many times when teens have a disagreement or someone hurts their feelings, they will post their thoughts about it on social media about it. Even if they do not name names, this can be a challenging issue for the teen on the receiving end because many people can easily deduce what is going on. When this happens, this is called subtweeting or vaguebooking.

Furthermore, the issue is now out there for a much larger audience to comment on and the teen must deal not only with the disgruntled friend, but also an audience of peers with varying opinions. Not only is this a challenge, but it also feeds into gossip and rumors.

Other problems teens may encounter online include oversharing and publicly discussing events that not all friends are invited to attend. This can be very hurtful for the teens that were excluded. Viewing other teens’ social media posts also can stir up feelings of jealousy and envy. And these feelings of envy can cause teens to engage in cyberbullying.

Encourage your teen to think about every single post before they post it. Even if they delete something 30 seconds later it may still be out there. And if someone is cyberbullying them, shaming them or trying to stir up drama, encourage them to refrain from responding.

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