Social media and teens: A paradox of opportunities and dark sides

Social Media

Neumann University looks forward to hosting the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) Soul of Youth Sport Conference from June 15 – 17. Here, Dr. Margaret Stewart previews her presentation on responsible social networking for student-athletes and those who mentor them by sharing some important statistics on social media use among teens. Dr. Stewart is an Assistant Professor in the Communication & Media Arts department at Neumann University.



To tweet or not to tweet?  That is the question that floats through the minds of the one in four teenagers who use the Twitter platform for social networking, according to the Pew Research Center (2013).

Twitter just happens to be the fastest-growing platform among teen users during the time period studied, with an increase in growth from 12% of teens using the site in 2011 to 26% in 2012.  The use of Twitter appears minimal in comparison to Facebook, where 94% of teens currently maintain active profiles.  This also does not account for the popular emergence of Instagram.  Irrelevant during the 2011 study, by 2012 Instagram boasts 11% growth among the adolescent population (Pew Research Center, 2013).

Social media and online social networks (OSNs) have changed the landscape of human communication and behavior.  For young people, these outlets have continually become more ubiquitous.  Social networking comportment is proving to be complicated for this population, as the users of these platforms are navigating unchartered terrain.

On the bright side, these channels serve as vital means of relationship initiation and maintenance, forums of opinion and information exchange, and create the ability to network conveniently among peers and within desired communities.  The benefits are not without pitfalls.  The dark side of social media is hallmarked by virtual trash-talking, cyber-bullying, and online identity deception, commonly known as catfishing.

For young people, the paradoxical nature of social networks can be confusing and uncertain.  While teens are more willing to engage openly online, many are not unaware of the potential consequences.  For instance, a separate study published by the Pew Research Center (2013) revealed that 92% of teen users include their real name on their profiles, 71% put the name of the school they attend on their profile, and 71% post the city or town where they live.

Further, 91% of teen social media users post personal photos, including selfies (digital self-portraits), 24% post videos featuring themselves, and 16% include their location in their posts making their whereabouts publicly known to those with viability to their profiles (Pew Research Center, 2013). This wealth of personal information may leave teenage users susceptible to potentially dangerous consequences, such as being stalked or easily identified by predatory individuals.

Nonetheless, many teen users demonstrate a level of awareness regarding their online activity. For instance, the same set of data shared by Pew revealed that 59% of teens admit to editing or deleting content that they have posted online and 53% said that they have deleted comments made by others on their profile content.

When it comes to sharing and being recognized readily in virtual visual content, such as pictures and videos, 45% of teens say they have removed their name from tagged photos to avoid being identified and 19% admitted that they have posted content, including status updates, comments, photos, or videos that they regretted sharing later on.

When it comes to privacy settings, roughly 60% of teens say they have their profile set to private, 25% have their profile partially private, and only 14% of teen users share that their profile is entirely public (Pew Research Center, 2013).  These statistics demonstrate that teenagers are relatively mindful of their online vulnerability and the potential risks of their online activity, engagements, and content.

Despite the presence of some degree of existing awareness, countless anecdotal evidence speaks to the ongoing complicated nature of these social networking sites. For instance, The Philadelphia Inquirer (2014) shared that a New Jersey high school recently announced its intention to suspend senior students from participating in graduation activities if they are found to be sharing nude or indecent selfies using mobile devices and/or social media accounts. On the contrary, a 2012 study by Common Sense Media found that 28% of teens indicated that social networking made them feel more outgoing and 52% said social media has improved the quality of their relationships with friends (Wallace, 2013).

The intricacy of social media and its associated effects is clearly a difficult phenomenon to understand, thus, the true scope of breadth and depth of their impact is still widely unknown.

What is certain is that these platforms, and the Internet that hosts them, are global, culturally pervasive, and ever-evolving.  As these communication technologies continue to innovate and their usage diversifies, it is crucial to generate awareness about the positive and negative consequences of online behavior, and to understand the responsibility associated with social media use and engaging online.

My interactive presentation at the NCEA Soul of Youth Sport Conference, entitled The Good Use of Social Networks, will discuss relevant research on these areas and make recommendations for best practices.  This information is set forth in hopes to better inform educators, coaches, guidance counselors, community leaders, athletic directors, parents, academic scholars, and other key stakeholders about the existing and ongoing research in the realm of teenage social media uses and effects with the goal of building increased awareness and a greater body of knowledge on how to guide young people towards positive and constructive use of contemporary online media.

2014 soul of youth sport conference



Madden, M. (2013).  Teens Haven’t Abandoned Facebook (Yet).  The Pew Research Center; Pew Research Internet Project.  Accessed:

Madden, M., Lenhart, A., Cortesi, S., Gasser, U., Duggan, M., Smith, A., and Beaton, M. (2013).  Teens, Social Media, and Privacy.  The Pew Research Center; Pew Research Internet Project.  Accessed:

N.A. (2014).  Nude selfies could lead to graduation ban in N.J.  The Philadelphia Inquirer.  Accessed:

Wallace, K. (2013).  The upside of selfies: Social media isn’t all bad for kids.  CNN News Network.  Accessed:

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