We are social beings. Our need to connect to others is at the core of our humanity. Through social media we are more able to be in contact with people than ever before in our history. But what affect does this have on us? Are we truly making human connections through social media? And what are the impacts of social media on our day to day ‘living’ relationships?
Below are 4 tips on how to use social media effectively:
SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE BRAIN
Studies by Dr Siegal, a neuropsychologist, has shown that our everyday experiences shape our brain. Therefore the experiences we have with social media are constantly changing the way our brain functions. When we connect with people over social media we are lacking one very important part of communication, and that is non-verbal behaviour. This includes a person’s facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, eye contact and emotional expression. These behaviours trigger the right hemisphere of our brain which actually triggers emotions. Thus when we communicate face to face and read non-verbal signals, we are stimulating our emotional centres. The deep concern arises if we begin substituting face to face connection with social media. At this point our emotional centres are not activated, we are using our logical brains to interact, creating a surface level experience of the world. The more we do this, the more we forget how to interact with emotion- how to handle conflict, to have empathy or to show kindness etc.
Is social media the only cause of emotional problems? Not at all. But we have to beware of the long lasting impact social media may be having on our abilities to interact on a deeper level, especially for the younger generation.
HOW MUCH TIME DO WE REALLY SPEND ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Not only does social media impact our brains, but it also takes up A LOT of our time. Have you ever stopped and counted the number of hours you spend on social media in one day? One study reported that social media accounts for 28% of all online activity, and that the average teenager (15-19) spends 3 hours a day on social media, with the average adult spending 2 hours a day on social media. Just stop and take a moment to think about this. This is about 14 hours a week, and 60 hours a month. This is time that could have been spent in conversation with your partner, or playing with your children or even interacting with your friends (in person).
The paradox of this situation is that too much electronic relating actually leads to social isolation. Not only do we ‘forget’ how to handle interpersonal relations, we also compare ourselves to others, compare our relationships and are unconsciously affected by the moods of others (anger, depression, hopelessness to name a few). Social media can create a wall between you and the people you really love. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, what we really have are the memories with the person sitting next to us.
THE GOOD SIDE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Of course, there is also a good side to social media. Never before have we been as connected to people across the world as we are today. This brings greater awareness of social issues, and problems that we are facing as a global community. Social media creates a sense of unity that joins people together for good causes and spreads awareness in order to create change. Social media helps us feel heard, understood and allows us to find common interests in those around us. We might actually find ourselves taking an interest and showing real concern for the plight of others. For parents, teens can use social media to inspire themselves and those around them, to find help if needed and to take an interest in things greater than themselves.
SO HOW THEN CAN WE USE SOCIAL MEDIA EFFECTIVELY?
The key to everything in life is BALANCE.
Limit the time you spend on social networks. Be conscious of how much time you spend on social media. Make an effort to have no technology times in your house or even implement no technology zones for yourself and your family. As a couple make time to communicate face to face.
Be aware of your own emotions and reactions. Be aware of your reactions to what you read on social media and how these may impact you at other times. You might read something that worries you and without knowing it you are left feeling anxious or concerned. To continue ‘training’ your emotional centers be aware of how you feel throughout your day and don’t be afraid to communicate this to those you can trust.
Take care not to compare yourself to others. Remember you are only seeing one side of the story- the side people want you to see. Information on social media is never seen in a broader context. Consider what people may think of you from your own posts on social media. You may be surprised that what we portray is at times very different to what is really going on in our lives.
Maintain a balance between your online and offline life. Spend more time connecting with people in other ways. Foster your friendships and relationships- talk more, share more, feel more and you will find yourself experiencing a more fulfilling existence.