The Internet, the smart mobile phone and social networks have revolutionized the way we relate to each other in society. In addition to serving to communicate, the content and messages reach us with few filters and with no other brake than the one we put on them. People of all ages find it difficult to use them without abusing them. In the case of children and adolescents, these difficulties are even greater.
While psychology consultations are increasingly filled with mental health problems related to this abuse (anxiety, depression, self-esteem problems, relational difficulties, sleep disorders), families do not have the necessary knowledge or resources for education of their children in the use of these technologies. Teenage children are the ones who have the greatest knowledge of the use of these networks, which leaves them without the protection of adults against the risks of inappropriate use of the same.
What strategies and tools can we use so that young people and adolescents make good use of them? Whose is this responsibility? How to reconcile the role of the family and that of the educational system as the main educators and socializers of these highly vulnerable populations?
The family-school-friends axis
From the point of view of evolutionary psychology , the most immediate environments of the individual (including family, school and peer group) form “microsystems” that have a direct influence on evolutionary development.
At a second level, the “mesosystem” is the space of interrelation between the different microsystems that would enhance or hinder their development. Thus, the need for a constant connection and communication between the three great educational and socializing axes, family, school and friends, is shown so that the development of the individual is optimal.
Social need boom
In addition, in adolescents there is an increase in social need during the consolidation of their own identity and personality .
At that moment, they go from looking for validation and support in the family to looking for it in their peer group. The competition when it comes to forming a stable group of friends and maintaining contact with them will mark the correct development, not only of their social skills but of their own self-concept and personality.
Knowing the great current change in the form and means of relating, and given the taxonomy of the new Alpha Generation , characterized by being digital natives and children of the so-called millennial generation, incorrect management of the use of the Internet and social networks can have negative effects. devastating in the emotional development of these individuals who are taking their first steps in the construction of their adult personality. The alpha generation grows up in totally digital environments, while their parents are still more aware of the idea of face-to-face contact.
It’s time to take responsibility
The reality we are facing is that more than 12% of adolescents make abusive use of social networks in their day-to-day life, with a high incidence of school failure at increasingly younger ages and the appearance of violent behavior uncontrolled both in the family and at school.
This same abusive use, statistically significant in the family environment, makes exhaustive work with families essential so that they become true protective factors against this problem.
families without tools
In terms of education, the family plays a fundamental role . The modeling that occurs in the most private sphere of the adolescent’s life takes on superlative importance.
Teenagers should learn to use these technologies and manage this digital content in their family environment, so that the use is transferred to school. However, it is not uncommon to find a family scene in which one or both parents or siblings answer calls, messages or emails during the course of a dinner or while watching a television series together. It is not so common for this to happen in the formal educational system where the use of mobile devices is usually prohibited and penalized.
Thus, we find ourselves facing a generation whose first photo at birth is already part of social networks, but which does not have clear models on how to use them in their daily lives in a healthy and responsible way.
The school needs the family
Formal educational systems serve to reinforce and enhance the education received at home. They do not have sufficient capacity to implement values that are not consistent with those that prevail in the family environment.
Even so, the school has an essential role as a mediator between families and adolescents. Therefore, it is essential to provide schools with resources so that they can help families contain this growth in disruptive and violent behavior.
It is essential that the authorities bet on training programs developed by specialists in the field that help both the school and the families to face a reality that has already been imposed.
Some pilot programs of educational workshops for the healthy use of social networks and communication technologies have already demonstrated their effectiveness and have aroused the interest of their participants.
Scheduling talks with specialists who report on situations and their consequences, proposing spaces for dialogue between adults and adolescents that promote active listening and empathy, as well as workshops in which they acquire tools to reduce and improve use, can be the key to that we all (families, students and teachers) learn to use social networks.
Author Bios: Monica Moreno Aguilera is Professor in Psychology Degree. Health and Forensic Psychologist and Mercedes Lorena Pedrajas Lopez is Director of the Master in Psychopedagogy both at Nebrija University