When Snap, Instagram & Tik Tok Are Your Main Modes of Communication

by Kathryn Lancioni
Founder of Presenting Perfection
Snap, Instagram and Tik Tok.  If you are the parent of tweens or teenagers, those are three words you probably hear fairly often in your house.  To today’s adolescents, social media is the main mode of communication.  Heck, Snapchat’s tagline is “Real Friends.” For many of them, it is even their main platform for social interaction. Gone are the days when a teen would curl up up on the couch and talk on the phone for hours on end, today most of them communicate in silence.
For the modern teenager, communication is about posting, streaks and likes. Communication is based upon a series of short, impersonal interactions instead of face-to-face contact. Friendships tend to be based on the number of likes one teen gives the other or the duration of their Snap Streak. Sadly, these streaks and likes don’t translate into a friendship in the real world. Two teens could have a streak of 480 days together on Snap but fail to even acknowledge each other in the hallway at school. It is no wonder that so many teens suffer from communication anxiety.

How did we get to this point? It comes down to one simple word–convenience.  With the pace of life being so fast, most adults look for ways to create time. And, teens are no different.  Liking a picture or updating a Snap streak, takes a lot less time than having a conversation with someone.  It is also less of a commitment which is a big thing for most teens. Between school, work, clubs and jobs, many adolescents barely have time to get their homework done let alone spend 15 or 20 minutes talking to a friend.

Despite the convenience of social media, the ramifications of its influence can’t be ignored and it goes way beyond communication.  A 2016 study by the American College Health Association found that 62% of undergraduates suffer from some type of anxiety, a 50% increase from a 2011 study. Many scientists and psychologists believe that much of this anxiety comes from social media.  A study done by a researcher at San Diego State University found that teens who spent the majority of their time on social media and smartphones suffered from more mental health issues than their peers who focus on non-screen activities such as sports, clubs and other face-to-face interactions.

The challenge is although social media is convenient, it is not a replacement for face-to-face conversation or verbal interactions. Digital communication causes social anxiety for adults, as well as teens.  The more that teens use social media as the basis for communication, the more virtual and fake their friendships become.  Think about how it would make you feel if your Snap friend didn’t smile at you in the hallway or your Insta buddy ignored you on the bus.  Probably pretty terrible.  It would also make you question whether that person was actually your friend.  It is these thoughts, and so many others, that are causing communication anxiety for teens.

Another big challenge for teens is they don’t know how to communicate.  How can that be? They have lost their role models. Most adults don’t answer the phone, let alone talk on it.  The result is kids have no one to learn from. Teens, tweens and even young kids get anxious when they have to answer the phone, let alone talk on it.  It is no wonder that so many teens don’t know what to say in a face-to-face conversation.

As a parent, what can you do to help your child overcome communication anxietystart by talking to them. Instead of asking your son or daughter to wait while you text a friend or finish  an email, put down your smart phone and talk face-to-face with your child.  Each face-to-face interaction with you teaches them one more thing about communication.

1. Family Night: Have one night per week or per month (the more the better) where everyone spends time talking to each other.  Maybe play a board game, a card game or cook dinner together–this is a fun, subtle way of getting your kids to communicate in the real world.

2. Dinner Together: Eat dinner together as much as possible.  Studies show eating dinner together as a family goes a long way in strengthening family relationships and building trust between family members.  Trust is an essential part of communication.

3. Encourage Smart-Phone Free Time: Figure out times during the week when your family can be smart phone free.  Family dinners are an easy one but try to pick another time during the week where you put those phones away and just talk to each other.

4. Hanging Out: Suggest to your tween/teen they invite their friends over to hang out instead of talking to them on Face Time.  If they don’t want to have them over, maybe you could encourage them to go the movies or the Mall.  Your goal is just to get them to have real face-to-face interaction.

5. Let Them Make the Call:  Ordering take out, making a reservation at a restaurant, need to call your parent? Let your teenager do it.  The only way for them to develop communication skills or overcome anxiety is with practice.  These low stress phone calls can go a long way in teaching your kids some basic phone etiquette and helping them learn some basic communication skills.

 For more information about Kathryn Lancioni and Presenting Perfection, Presenting Perfection.

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