During adolescence period, which is between 10 and 19 years, one experiences rapid growth of the brain which brings about changes in thinking and behavior. Adolescents want to explore the world around them and to develop capacities to take up new roles in society. In their quest to explore the world around them, adolescents seek information from parents, peers, other grown-ups and community leaders to make decisions. The loudest voice in their network has the most influence on choices that adolescents make. Television, internet and peers are adolescents’ main sources of information. Nowadays it is almost impossible for some young people and grownups to function without social media. It is a good source of information but has a negative side as well. Ministry of Health Assistant Director Adolescent Health Dr. Matilda Kakungu Simpungwe explains that there is an increasing concern about the effects of social media on the lives of young people. Social media has positive and negative effects on individuals depending on how they utilize the platform. For a developing and inquisitive mind of an adolescent, it is important to understand what effects, both good and bad social media has for informed decision making and to enlighten parents who appear to be lagging behind in appreciating social media. Increasing one’s knowledge base on a wide variety of topics ranging from health, politics, science, news etc. is one good aspect of social media which adolescents make use of. At the push of a button adolescents are not only able to get information on almost any topic they choose to complete their school assignments but also to share social happenings around them with their peers. Adolescents are also able to stay in touch with their friends using Facebook, email and other social media platforms. Young people are always updating one other on everything and busy chasing information about their idols in order not to remain behind. The concern however is when social media disrupts the normal function and development of adolescents. Over-use of social media by spending many hours can affect sleep, health and academic performance. It is very common for young people to spend more time on social media than on sleeping or on other productive activities such as studying, doing sports or house chores. Poor academic performance, cheating during exams, sedentary life style with little physical activity that leads to obesity and non-participation in family activities are common among adolescents glued to cell phones. Failure to effectively communicate and to build normal relationships with people are some deleterious consequences of spending too much time on social media. Young people use a certain language and sometimes incorrect sentences when communicating with peers on social media. Before they realise it, they would have gotten used to using phrases that are not used in the real world and this affects their ability to compose or write sentences correctly. Some adolescents do not even appreciate or shun face-to-face interactions with other people so much that they fail to start any meaningful conversation or to respond to any social needs requiring their participation because they simplify lack skills to do so. Parents and guardians should therefore set boundaries in respect to how much time adolescents spend on social media and help them to develop social skills as they get involved in social activities. Corrupt materials that affect the morals of young minds such as pornographic movies, pictures and literature are in abundance on social media. There is no age restriction to accessing such materials and unfortunately, some adolescents have fallen prey to illicit activities like posting nude pictures and circulating of profane materials that have landed them in problems with the law enforcement agents. Some young people have also found themselves in other criminal activities inadvertently. Vulnerability to criminal activities on social media is common among adolescents based on the fact that their reasoning in decision making is not futuristic but their focus is on enjoying the moment. Young boys and girls want affirmation by their peer that they are good looking through ‘likes’ they receive on postings of their images. To keep up with appearances, many young people put up a fake personality or image that peers like and thereby miss the opportunity to develop themselves in the real world. Any negative or non-response or cyber-bullying can result in depression and low self-esteem which affect the normal development of young people. What can parents and guardians do to safeguard the lives of adolescents? It is important to explain to children the right time for them to own a phone and if they have one on the advantages and advantages of social media. Set rules regarding what times family members should be on phone so that they can interact with one another and participate in activities that bond families together.
Parents should lead by example.