Social Media and Adolescents

I was having a conversation with a few friends about the rise in children, particularly under 13, being cyber-bullied and committing suicide. With my son in that age group, I couldn’t help but think of why a child would want to take his or her own life.

I grew up in an era when it considered “children being children” and bullying was a “normal” part of childhood.

Now with social media, bullying is on a larger platform. Plus, once it’s placed on the internet, it becomes permanent. I’ve always been fearful of the possible teasing my child would have to endure with having a physical scar and not fitting in the “typical” category. Because of that, I decided to turn his differences into his strengths. He gets excited when he sees someone with an autism ribbon on their car or watches a commercial in spreading autism awareness.

Preston has a surgical scar on his head from ear to ear. He’s had seizures, developmental delays, and will live with autism for the rest of his life. It’s no secret that children can be cruel to other children.

Now, he just turned 12. His teen years will soon be upon us. This is the time when he will be begin to find his identity. According to Erik Erikson, a German-born American psychoanalyst, my son is in Stage 5 of development; Identity vs. Confusion. During adolescence, children begin to explore their independence and develop a sense of self. Socialization is necessary to achieve that goal.

Preston still prefers to play with younger children, but he can hold his own in a conservation with adults. I’m so proud of his ability to verbally express his feelings especially since many professionals previously told me that he would never be able to achieve that.

Yet, there is still a challenge of associating with his peers. He struggles in communicating with those his own age. Children in the same age group have developed interests outside of toys and cartoons but he still enjoys them. He’s aware of social media sites but has not yet become interested in participating at this time.

Today’s youth spends a lot of time on social media sites. I dread to think about what my childhood would’ve been like if the internet and these sites existed then. Children often seek acceptance from their peers. What child doesn’t long to be in the “popular” crowd or the “cool” one? There is an innate feeling to fit in amongst common peer groups. There are too many fighting videos involving adolescents that have gone viral with even more taunting comments. Not all attention is good attention.

I know there will come a time when he will want a Facebook page, a Twitter username, and/or a Instagram account. Yet, he still desires to connect with his peers. He yearns to have friends who will engage with him.

Preston is growing up in a microwave world but living life like an oven. It is taking him more time to discover his surroundings and how to navigate life. How do I assist my child with coping in this type of environment? I’m aware that I can’t hold his hand for the rest of his life. Although he thinks “outside the box”, he has to learn how to adapt to society. Social media sites have become an important part of our world.

He will, one day, he will have to face the pressures to fit in. I have talked to him about peer pressure. I’ve informed him of the positives and negatives about social media websites by actually using various sites. Afterwards, we converse about it. I’m teaching him to make good choices, yet I realize that I will have to allow him to make decisions on his own. He needs to find his identity in the world. He needs to gain friendships with his peers. He needs experiences to work towards independence. Having autism can make those achievements more complicated.

Will he ever form friendships outside of family? Will he be accepted by his peers? Will he make right or wrong choices in picking who he calls a friend? Will he become a subject of cyber-bullying once he’s allowed to be on social media? These are just a few questions that constantly dwells in my mind.

Ultimately, the challenge is allowing him to discover who is and how he can become a productive member in our society. My hope for Preston is not to lose himself in attempting to establish relationships with others when exploring his potential and capabilities.

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