Social Media Impacts Teens’ View of Intimacy

social media

Adults often discuss the dangers of social media in the hands of their children.  Many parents wonder what their teenagers are doing in spending a great deal of time on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media site.  However, instead of social media simply being viewed as a way for teens to connect online, it is having a profound impact on how they view intimacy.

Microsoft principal researcher Danah Boyd, for instance, says that the relationship that teenagers have with social media is actually quite complicated, and it’s peppered with a tendency to want to test their boundaries and have parents respect them.  In her new book, It’s Complicated:  The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Boyd says that in many respects, social media use tends to be a bit of a stress release for teenagers, as it is a bit of a break from many of the stresses they face daily.  She says that adults should try and relax a little about their teenagers’ use of technology and try to respect their desire for privacy in using it.

There are also a growing number of initiatives, such as “Think Before You Share”, which are designed to teach teenagers some of the realities that come with social media use.  “Think Before You Share” is a joint venture between Facebook, the Canadian Federation of Teachers and media literacy group Mediasmarts. The program is designed to help teens think about what they are sharing about themselves and others on Facebook and other social media sites.  According to Canadian Federation of Teachers’ President Dianne Woloschuk, the program also helps continue to develop empathy skills with teenagers and, for that matter, anyone making use of social media.

The view of intimacy many teenagers have as a result of social media is quite different than those of their predecessors, who were not as “plugged in” as teenagers today.  Social media, according to the Pew Internet and American Life project, has caused teenagers to feel supported by people they may not have actually met.  In their report, Teens, Social Media and Society, the Pew Internet and American Life project found that the average teenager has 300 or more friends and that they tend to post virtually anything about their personal lives, ranging from photos to personal information.  The reasons behind the personal posting is that teens may have limited understanding of privacy policies that exist on social media, and in some cases, they may need a bit of an ego boost.

According to a study from the University of Michigan, people with narcissistic tendencies are drawn to social media websites.  The study says that younger students may turn to social media sites like Twitter as a means of putting a megaphone to their thoughts.   Researcher Elliot Panek says that younger people tend to place greater importance on their opinion while older adults turn to sites like Facebook as a means of gaining approval from those in their social circles.

In addition, many teens place high confidence in their ability to manage their privacy settings on their social media site of choice, and this is a distinct change from nearly 8 years ago.  A survey of 802 students in 2006 and again in 2012 showed that teens are shying away from Facebook, which offers a high amount of drama, oversharing and an increasing adult presence.  Because of this, teens are becoming increasingly skilled at managing their social media presence and privacy settings.  74 percent of teens reported that they have deleted friends from their network or profile in order to enhance their privacy.

The view of intimacy that teens have now as a result of social media has definitely changed from those of their predecessors.  Intimacy and privacy is something that is far more fluid, where so many teens are oversharing and offering far more insight into their private lives than they have ever done before.  Privacy is also something to be controlled simply by excising an offending person from a friends’ list, rather than by watching what is said and shared. Social media has a growing impact on teenage lives and will continue to inform how they form relationships.

By Christina St-Jean


Pew Internet and American Life Project

George Stromboulopolis Tonight

The Globe and Mail

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