New Report Details the Devastating Effects Social Media Is Having on Generation Z

Today, we hear from Andrew McPeak. Andrew is a next gen researcher, speaker, and author for Growing Leaders. 

A study released in Jan 2018 by Barna Research Group reveals that Generation Z is more emotionally affected by the perils of social media than other generations who are also online. Utilizing a quantitative survey of 1,490 nationally representative students—ages 13 to 18 across the US—researchers asked students about their relationship with technology. The findings are quite revealing.

When asked whether or not the following statements were true, Generation Z’s responses stuck out above other generations:

“Looking at other people’s posts often make me feel bad about the way I look.”

Gen Z – 31%
Millennials – 30%
Generation X – 20%
Boomers – 4%

“Looking at other people’s posts often makes me feel bad about the lack of excitement in my own life.”

Gen Z – 39%
Millennials – 34%
Generation X – 24%
Boomers – 8%

“I have experienced bullying on social media.”

Gen Z – 33%
Millennials – 29%
Generation X – 20%
Boomers – 12%

A full third of Generation Z seems to be emotionally impacted in some way by the thousands of posts they are viewing online. It doesn’t seem foolish to assume that these students might easily make their way from “feeling down” about what they see online, to experiencing depression and anxiety (both of which are on the rise among teens). Today’s teens work constantly to make sure that they keep up with their friends online. In fact, a full 26% of them tell us that they spend the equivalent of a full time job on social media sites every day.

This information may feel like nothing new to you. You probably don’t need me to tell you your students are on their phones all the time. The difference is not that we know they are on their screens, it’s that each new study released paints a more and more dire picture of the internal challenges today’s teens are facing. According to this research, a member of Gen X and a member of Gen Z could spend the same amount of time on social media and the Gen Z student would walk away feeling more inferior and possibly more depressed. It’s a reality we need to understand if we are to lead today’s students well.

So . . . What Do I Say to My Student?

You may already know about the negative effects of screen use, but that doesn’t make having a conversation with your students about technology any easier. They want to be on their phones just as much as ever. So, let me suggest a way that you can start a conversation with your students about this problem without them feeling threatened.

1. Show them this report. Maybe the best way to talk to your Gen Z student about their social media use is not to tell them anything. Just show them this report and let that start the conversation.

2. Ask them what they think. Ask them about their experiences. Have their friends ever been affected by screen use? What about them? Just be sure to follow the “They, We, Me” method. Always start by asking them about other people (students today, students at their school, etc.). Next, ask them “we” questions (our family, our classroom, our group). After those two steps you will be ready for a “me” question (Have you ever felt this way?) This method eases them into the conversation.

3. Ask them what their core values are. One reason today’s students are affected so much by social media is that so many of them don’t have an identity outside of what is said about them online. Challenge your students to build an identity through core values separate from their online persona. A great way to start the conversation is to ask them, when someone introduces you to a new person, what words do you want them to say about you?

4. Ask them what they think should be done next. Challenge them to build a healthy relationship with social media and their phone. I’ve talked with students who, of their own volition, decided to take a two week “fast” from technology, or to get rid of certain social media apps that affect them more than others, or to just spend less time online each day. Let your student come up with the idea, but then ask them if you can keep them accountable to their decision. You might even decide to take the fast along with them.

It is possible for today’s students to make wise choices online. They just need leaders like you to help them find a path toward wise decisions. Thank you for being their guide.

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New Report Details the Devastating Effects Social Media Is Having on Generation Z