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Ronald Chaluisan is the executive director of the New Jersey education think tank, Newark Trust for Education.
In an era when 90 percent of teens ages 13-17 use social media, understanding how to maximize the good and avoid the bad is crucial to their safety and success. Too many have replaced words with emojis and see likes as a measure of self-worth. It’s well documented that social media can lead to anxiety, depression, and other dangers. But a technologically-enhanced world calls for young minds to be equipped with digital literacy to make informed decisions on and offline. Parents and educators must understand the risks and educate children on how to harness these platforms’ potential while avoiding their dangers.
Social media lets kids communicate freely – interacting and connecting with people and groups in a limitless virtual community. They continuously post updates, share pictures and videos, join interest groups, follow other users, and like and comment on other users’ posts. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok give voice to their interests, likes, and dislikes. The number of social media users is growing, and we can’t ignore it.
Digital literacy is non-negotiable
Teens’ mental health is at risk without digital literacy, which entails navigating, evaluating, and effectively using digital technologies and information. It involves using digital devices and software, finding and evaluating online information, communicating and collaborating on digital platforms, maintaining privacy and security online, understanding digital rights and responsibilities, and critically analyzing digital content. It includes knowing how to create content, such as Google Docs and Word documents, videos, or images, and identifying reliable sources of information online. For anyone wanting to fully participate in today’s digital world, make informed decisions, and adapt to changing technological environments, digital literacy is essential. Teens are no exception.
A crucial tool for safeguarding the mental well-being of young people is empowering them with solid digital literacy skills. First, digital literacy skills help them differentiate between real and fake information, preventing exposure to harmful or triggering content. Secondly, digital literacy empowers young people to manage their online presence and establish healthy boundaries. This reduces the pressures of constant comparison and validation-seeking caused by social media. Additionally, digital literacy enables them to participate in meaningful digital communities and support networks, where they can connect with like-minded individuals, access resources, and seek help during stressful times. Developing digital literacy skills can help youth navigate the digital world, preventing mental health harm and promoting a healthy relationship with technology.
Educators and parents play a critical role in helping young people develop digital literacy skills and take control of their online well-being. Adults can regularly discuss online safety and responsible digital behavior to ensure young people make informed choices. This will help them build a healthy digital mindset. They can learn to recognize signs of cyberbullying, report it, and protect themselves from it. They can also learn how to manage their online reputation and privacy settings.
Providing hands-on experiences and learning
Allowing youth to explore and create digital content while emphasizing critical thinking and media literacy skills enables them to understand the digital landscape better. For example, allowing students to develop podcasts, websites, or video games can help them develop digital literacy skills while exploring creativity. This will enable them to become digital media consumers and creators. By engaging with digital media, teens can develop critical skills such as problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and creative thinking. They can also learn how to evaluate digital content for accuracy and credibility.
These skills are needed in today’s digital world, and providing youth with the opportunity to explore and create digital content helps prepare them for the future. Digital literacy skills will become increasingly essential for individuals to thrive in education, employment, and civic engagement. A recent report found that 92 percent of jobs will require digital skills. Those with strong digital literacy skills will have a competitive edge in the job market and be better equipped to make informed decisions, contribute positively to society, and protect their well-being.
Strike a balance
Finally, it is critical to promote balance and self-care. Maintaining a healthy relationship with technology is paramount to establishing healthy boundaries, taking regular digital detoxes, and engaging in more offline activities. Incorporating standard mental health practices into our everyday lives can help protect against technology’s adverse effects on our mental health. For instance, setting aside time for reflection and meditation, engaging in physical activity, and connecting with nature can all reduce stress and enhance mental well-being. This will help youth strengthen their resilience and self-awareness while promoting balance and self-care.
As parents and educators, we can support our youth’s mental, social, emotional, and physical well-being by equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate the digital world confidently and responsibly. By empowering our young people with these skills, we provide them with the tools to navigate the vast seas of social media. We also help them emerge as resilient individuals who can embrace a world of infinite possibilities.