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The Future of Our Social-Selves: The Effect of Social Media on Australian Parents and their Children

by Margaret Bell | May 8, 2018

There are few modern lives, particularly among the younger generations, which have not been touched by social media. Relationships begin or are nurtured on Facebook. Life milestones are accompanied by a slew of Instagram posts. Debates and conversations - both friendly and acrimonious - are more likely to be conducted on Twitter than face-to-face.

Like it or not, social media is everywhere, and it is here to stay.

But it is important to retain focus and perspective. While social media can be a powerful tool for good, it also has a marked effect on 'the emotional me'; the portion of the self which is arguably the most human, the most flawed, and the most beautiful, of them all.

We have been discussing how we can better understand ourselves and our position within society. With this in mind, it is important to consider how this modern phenomenon impacts on our understanding of our emotional selves.

Positive Questions for Positive Social Media Use

All of us - young and old - need to be aware of our motivations and our objectives when using social media. We can ask ourselves: "am I using this technology to live a positive life?", "am I using it to communicate better with my friends and family?", "am I using social media as a tool to better engage with the community at large?"

These questions can guide us as we seek to live a more fulfilling life online, but it still pays to be aware of the two-sided nature of the social media coin, and of the dangers that digital connections can pose.

New Concerns in the Modern Digital Landscape

Research shows that Australian users may spend as many as 21 hours on social media every week, translating to almost 1100 hours per year and demonstrating the power that such tools have on the lives of ordinary people like you or me. Anything which can exact such a heavy toll on the free time of a user can have a damaging effect. Neglected studies, failure to get the proper sleep or nutrition required to live a healthy life, disintegration of personal or professional relationships; all of this has been linked to overuse of social media.

In fact, increasing numbers of Australians are being diagnosed with, and counselled for, social media addiction. This has led to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues which can be seriously harmful and even fatal in some cases.

There is also the question of cyberbullying, by which bullies use social platforms to harass or harm other users; users that they may or may not know in the 'real world'. Cyberbullying is something which law enforcement takes very seriously, imposing penalties of up to three years incarceration and a fine of over $30,000 in some cases. All social media users should be vigilant with regard to cyberbullying and are urged to report it if they see it.

Taking Steps Towards a Positive Future

This is not designed to be a diatribe against social media. Social media affords us a wealth of options and possibilities that earlier generations could only dream about. Instead, I hope to communicate the need for positive responses and positive choices online. If we can achieve this while retaining a view and an understanding of our emotional selves, there is no reason why social media cannot be a positive force.

Stay aware and stay positive when online. Consider your actions and those of others in the same way you would offline; in a friendship group or place of education, for example. This is all that is required; to recognise our positions within this growing digital society, and to play our parts in nurturing a positive, constructive, and safe space for communication.

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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