Everyone talks about it, to the point where sometimes it’s annoying. So why am I writing my first blog on social networks? Because I know how many times a day something in connection with social networks appears in the speech of a young man. Without a doubt it is not a small number, and it has a psychological meaning. When we mature, we create our own identity, the image of who I am, what I am, how others see me, my friends, my family, where I belong and do not belong. Social networks, particularly Facebook, allow teens to create an ideal self-image. They publish in their profile what they want their friends to know about them. They want to be seen and attract, to show themselves, and do not want to be left out.
Adolescents present themselves on Facebook in various ways- they publish photos, videos, statuses, things they like, and they identify themselves with different groups. They present themselves the way they want to be perceived by their peers. Simultaneously, Facebook is a measure of popularity, how many friends I have, who gave me likes, which comment someone wrote about me, etc. If I get enough of them, my peers perceive me as popular, successful and interesting. At puberty, young people create their self-image according to what others think about them. When they are successful on Facebook and have a positive affinity for how they show themselves to others, they feel better, are pleased with each other, and are satisfied with themselves. But what if the opposite is true, what if there is more negative feedback? Will it disturb their self-image? This is the main reason why teenagers spend so much time on Facebook, their profile must be the best in order to get as many likes and positive reactions as possible, especially when it comes to opposite sex. But the need for an ideal profile disappears with gradual maturing and the profiles of adolescents (16 years and over) on social networks become more realistic, as a kind of continuation of reality in the virtual world.
Back to teenagers and their ideal profiles. Does this “ideal profile” help those who otherwise are not so popular, talkative, or do not meet the current criteria for what is perceived as beautiful to stand out? Perhaps in the recent past, when the internet was an area in which those who were not perceived as so attractive to others could succeed. However, today we share our photos too easily. Besides, adolescents judge their own photos differently than the photos of others, and the line between attractive and embarrassing is very thin. It matters to what extent the photo highlights the positives and to what extent it is embellished to the point that it impersonates someone else. On the one hand, the photos could be rated as beautiful, interesting, someone who is popular and always out partying, on the other hand, they could be judged as “he flaunts himself.” Who actually profits from the “ideal”? How likely is it that when I’m popular in the real world, I will be popular in the cyber world? Will my ideal Facebook profile improve my self-image? Well, frankly, I’m pretty skeptical in this regard. Certainly each of us needs to belong to a certain group, irrespective of age. The opportunity to identify oneself with a group on the social network is therefore without doubt an advantage and something positive. I feel that I belong somewhere, I will find new friends, I gain more contacts and popularity. But according to studies, teens communicate on social networks almost exclusively with those who they normally encounter, whether at school or elsewhere. Therefore, once again it brings us to inequality.
What about teens and threats to them in the virtual world? Many parents think that their children and teens are naive and do not know what can happen to them. But if you think this is the case, you are mistaken. Young people are aware of the dangers social networks bring them, and they have pretty good awareness that their personal data must be protected. Every parent fears that the internet will cause their child negative experiences, and of course it is not always possible to avoid it. We can assume, and research supports this view, that those who spend more time on Facebook, chat, and post detailed information about themselves are more likely to be exposed to threats such as swearing, teasing, online bullying, sexual comments, innuendo, etc. And the other side of the issue is the fact that teens are not only victims of these threats, but are often their perpetrators. My child is not like that. But can we say that with certainty? In a survey, many young people admitted to the fact that they go on the internet to make fun of others, laugh at, or curse someone, and post videos or photos of others in embarrassing situations.
The victims of cyber bullying usually know who the aggressor is, and it’s typically someone from their everyday life, or known from their social network. On average they do not tell anyone about this, and when they decide to confide in someone, it is most often their close friends. However, adolescents react differently to cyber bullying. Some ignore these threats and do not take them seriously, some experience negative emotions such as sadness, feelings of inferiority and humiliation, and some respond with counterattacks. Of course, the most vulnerable are adolescents with lower self-esteem.
I want to protect my child, therefore I limit his activities on the internet. Does it really work? Personally, I agree with the results of studies showing that restrictive strategies of parents are not very effective. Teens with parents that prohibit certain activities on the internet are not more protected from internet risks and do not know how to effectively react to them. But as a parent you can’t just stand idly by. How to help one´s children? The prevention of online threats begins in the parent – child relationship. Provide your children the opportunity to experience feelings of personal well-being, healthy self-esteem and self-confidence. This satisfaction and mental balance will help them cope with various difficulties, as well as threats of the internet. Talk with children about the internet. Be close to them while they are online and explore the possibilities of the internet together. Be an example to your children on what to share and what to keep private online. Teenagers certainly need to have some privacy on the internet, but younger children will appreciate such assistance. It is necessary to pay attention to what your child is doing on the internet. Try to keep up with new technologies in order to better advise your children. If you have a daughter, increase your attention to the risks associated with sexuality. And most importantly, remember that you, as well as your child, need to have your “Bienestar”.
Author: PhDr. Anna Balgová
For given research data we would like to thank Mgr. Jarmila Tomková of the Research Institute of Child Psychology and Patopsychology, a specialist on the specifics of child development and socialization on the internet.