Parents don’t know how to approach teens about alarming social media posts: survey

A cell phone with the Snapchat logo (REUTERS/Eric Thayer).
A cell phone with the Snapchat logo (REUTERS/Eric Thayer). REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Social media doesn’t just offer insight into the lives of celebrities and old friends — it can often reveal to parents when their children are struggling, according to a recent survey by Kids Help Phone.

Approximately one-third of parents said they have seen their teenagers struggling with emotional issues on social media, a number that jumped to 60 per cent for teenagers whose household income is $35,000 or less.

“What a lot of kids do with social media is show off their appearance,” explains registered psychotherapist Vielka Almanzar with Bayridge counselling centres.

“Everyone portrays this persona online. When that part of your life doesn’t go your way, and you don’t have any other extra-curriculars to express [yourself], your whole world is going to crumble. It’s much more delicate if that’s the only outlet you have,” she says.

Almanzar goes on to explain that one of the reasons social media can pose a challenge for parents is because many of them have never engaged with these platforms themselves. To get past this, Almanzar says the best thing parents can do is talk to their kids about social media the way they talk to their kids about school.

Story continues below advertisement

WATCH: Dove ‘Real Beauty Bottle’ campaign causes uproar on social media

Click to play video 'Dove ‘Real Beauty Bottle’ campaign causes uproar on social media' Dove ‘Real Beauty Bottle’ campaign causes uproar on social media
Dove ‘Real Beauty Bottle’ campaign causes uproar on social media – May 9, 2017

“Today’s youth routinely search for information online and on social media about issues such as body image, suicide, and bullying; however they may not be talking to their parents, friends or relatives,” said Sharon Wood, president and CEO at Kids Help Phone.

“These new survey results tell us that adults can create opportunities in the summer months to proactively engage and talk to their teens, and guide them to credible and appropriate content about these and other issues.”

According to the report, one barrier is parents are often on different social channels than their teens. For example, 62 per cent of teens aged 16-18 are on Instagram and 58 per cent are on Snapchat, while only 30 per cent of their parents are on Instagram and only 14 per cent are on Snapchat.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Facebook accused of using ‘sentiment analysis’ to target kids feeling ‘stressed’ or ‘anxious’

The findings of the survey also revealed that the top three triggers of emotional stress for teenagers on social media are body image, suicide and bullying. Almanzar explains that being “shamed” is a big risk for teenagers using social media platforms.

“Shame is one of the most deeply rooted emotions of humans. When there was no order, no police, shame was the weapon. Shame is very powerful for all human beings. Social media is pretty much a weapon to shame anyone on a mass scale. When teenagers use social media, they are opening themselves up for that potential,” explains Almanzar.

WATCH: Study finds many teens taking breaks from social media

Click to play video 'Study finds many teens taking breaks from social media' Study finds many teens taking breaks from social media
Study finds many teens taking breaks from social media – Apr 28, 2017

Murdoch says that the best way for parents to promote a positive social media experience for their children is to inform themselves about the platforms their kids are using.

Story continues below advertisement

“Much like the world before the internet, kids don’t typically run to their parents with their issues, but parents just aren’t on the same social media channels,” explains Jennifer Murdoch, associate vice-president of counselling services at Kids Help Phone.

“We are living in a digital world now. Parenting in a digital world is really challenging, but we do have an opportunity to meet them where they are,” Murdoch said.

For its part, Kids Help Phone has made recent strides to become more mobile friendly, including a chat app that allows young people to connect with the help line.

“It all goes right to the heart of what is the information you’re accessing? There’s as much fake news as there is fake information. The readiness and accessibility of that information is a double-edged sword,” Murdoch said.

READ MORE: Why this picture of a bathing suit has social media users seeing red

The report also goes on to state that only half of parents of Canadian teens have had conversations with their children about social media, and only 24 per cent of parents of teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 felt they’d be able to help their teen if they were struggling with something on social media, such as bullying or suicidal thoughts.

Almanzar says that the best things parents can do is talk to their kids like they would about anything else, for example: school. While parents don’t go to school with their kids, they talk to them about it and know who their school friends are. She explains that with social media, the same methods should be applied.

Story continues below advertisement

“The  most successful parents deal with this like any new environment. They don’t make it about the technology,” she says. “That’s how the door opens up.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts, and Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) all offer ways of getting help if you or someone you know may be suffering from mental health issues.

The Kids Help Phone national online survey was conducted on April 19, 2017 by Toluna in English and French among 1,000 Canadian parents with teens aged 12 – 18.