Parenting in the social media age | Jackson Hole Woman

Like the sex talk and the drug talk, parents can now add another item to their hot-button list with kids: the social media talk.

“How to interact and manage what goes on on social media is like this whole new frontier,” said Sarah Caldwell, assistant clinical director at Teton Behavior Therapy. “This is the world that these adolescents are living in that looked very different for us when we were in high school. Our social connections and dynamics were just different.”

It’s true. From the development of smartphones to the rise of social media, means of connecting with others have changed. According to Statista, 72% of female internet users 15 and older have accessed Facebook, 56% Instagram, 36% Twitter, 24% Snapchat and 14% TikTok.

Carrie Kirkpatrick is a mother of two girls and the program director of Raising Girls, a Girls Actively Participating program that provides resources and events for parents.

She recalls when the iPhone was becoming popular around 2010.

“I had this gut feeling that it wasn’t right for my kids to have a phone, but I felt in the minority sometimes,” Kirkpatrick said. “I just kind of put together this panel to hear what’s the experience of girls today and how can parents support their girls, and it was just packed. And technology came up towards the end, and it got really heated in terms of people’s different opinions about whether you should have phones or not.”

Nowadays it’s not only a question of whether they should have phones but whether they should have social media accounts and, if so, how they should use them.

Social media does have its positives, such as connecting people and sharing information and issues on a global scale.

As a licensed clinical social worker, Caldwell sees it as a great way to find and distribute health resources. She’s seen a normalization and acceptance of mental illness, too, as individuals worldwide are able to share their experience and comfort others.

“I think that piece of connection, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, when everything was sort of new and we were really on lockdown, it did feel like a good way to connect,” Caldwell says. “But I think then you start to see sort of the fatigue of having that social connection only be virtual.”

It’s hard to imply causality between social media and its potential negative effects because there is no control group of kids who don’t have phones, Kirkpatrick said. She said it could be a chicken or egg scenario instead.

“What I’ve seen with people is that the girls who have a healthy self-concept aren’t seeking out those things that can be so damaging,” she says. “And the girls who don’t, like there’s so much available for them to look at to make themselves feel worse.”

Along with a negative self-image and normalization of harassment, social media use…

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