Written by: Sarah Fowler
During the pandemic, many of us resorted to social media to fill our social interaction meters, especially children and adolescents. We were using social media before the pandemic, but COVID-19 drastically transformed the way we use social media today.
Social Media & Pandemic Statistics
- 61% of Gen-Z and Millennials watched more videos on social media due to the pandemic primarily for entertainment.
- 63% of parents say teens’ social media use has increased during COVID-19 pandemic. 
- Over 35% of Gen-Z and Millennials confessed they usually ignore COVID-19 info shared by others on social media or messaging platforms they knew was false. 24.4 % reported the content, and 19.3% commented on it. 
- About half (53%) of young people say social media has been “very” important to them during the pandemic for staying connected to friends and family, and about a third say social media has been “very” important for staying informed about current events (34%) and understanding how to protect themselves against the virus (31%). 
- 43% of all 14- to 22-year-old social media users say that when they feel depressed, stressed, or anxious, using social media usually makes them feel better, compared to just 17% who say it makes them feel worse (the rest say it makes no difference either way). This is up from 27% who said social media made them feel better in 2018. 
- Among those with moderate to severe depressive symptoms, 29% say social media is “very” important for getting inspiration from others (vs. 17% for those without symptoms), 28% say it’s “very” important for feeling less alone (vs. 13%), and 26% say it’s “very” important for getting support or advice when needed (vs. 15%). 
- Young people with moderate to severe depressive symptoms are nearly twice as likely as those without depression to say they use social media “almost constantly”(34% vs. 18%). 
- The percent of those with depression who say social media is “very” important for getting support and advice has more than doubled since 2018, from 11% to 26%. 
It’s evident that students are using social media much more than prior to the pandemic and not always for positive reasons. At certain points, social media was their only form of social interaction with peers and distant family members. And while social media use comes as second nature to most of Gen-Z and below, our students with language impairments or difficulties with social language (pragmatics) are left struggling.
As speech-language pathologists, working on social skills is within our scope of practice. Social media has become the dominant form of communication during isolation so it’s important for SLPs to incorporate safe social media skills to help students fit in the digital world.
10 Pros and 10 Cons of Social Media
- Provides children and adolescents with a way to communicate with peers during isolation
- The University of Georgia found that millions of people might be boosting their self-esteem with social media use. They can relate to others and feel in control of how they’re seen by others. 
- Teenagers practice a lot of skills during social media use (e.g., technical skills, writing blogs, utilize safe chat rooms to develop writing, reading, and critical thinking skills.) 
- When used correctly, Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok can improve social skills (e.g., responding to comments, talking with friends and followers, problem-solving, debating, etc.) 
- Teens can also increase their political awareness by watching the news, reading articles, and seeing current events and documentaries. 
- Teens can develop values based on observing role models in the media. 
- Older teens can unleash their creative skills by creating and sharing artistic and musical efforts. 
- In addition, they can expand their world knowledge by connecting with people of all different backgrounds 
- Social media connects marginalized groups of people so they can acknowledge collective struggle (e.g., BLM, #MeToo, LGBTQ+)
- Learning professional skills by communicating with teachers via email. 
- Addiction is one of the most common negative effects of social media. The instant gratification and craving for outward validation via likes become obsessive. This obsession could disrupt schoolwork, reading, or extracurriculars. Getting likes on social media activates the reward centers of the brain which are particularly sensitive during adolescence. 
- Filters used for picture apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok, lead to a distorted body image. Flinders University in Australia found that teenage girls who spend more time online have lower self-esteem and greater dissatisfaction with their body image. 
- Risk of communicating with dangerous individuals (e.g., catfishing, communicating with unsafe strangers, cyberbullies, trolls, etc.)
- “Facebook depression” is a new term referring to depression that develops because of children/teens spending too much time on social media sites and beginning to experience depression as a result. This happens when teens compare themselves to other’s illusion of a perfect life. 
- Digital footprint. Once it’s out there, it’s out there for good. 
- Limited use of nonverbal communication, therefore it is difficult to determine tone of voice. It also limits seeing a reaction to a hurtful comment. If a cyberbully attacks someone online verbally, they won’t see the reaction to being bullied. Often time when we see an emotional response, it triggers regret. 
- Privacy concerns including data collection of teen users
- Takes away time from face-to-face communication which is crucial when teaching teens about social interaction. 
- Exposure to harmful or inappropriate content 
- False information spreads through social media like wildfire. Children often assume whatever they read online is true and don’t engage in fact-checking.
In summary, there are positives and negatives to social media use. Additionally, the negatives tend to be amplified with increased or chronic use of social media.
How does social media specifically affect language?
Reduced Face-to-Face Interaction
Since COVID-19, many teens have expressed increased social anxiety when it comes to face-to-face communication. This might lead to nervous behaviors like avoiding eye contact, difficulty finding something to talk about, and/or less effective listening comprehension skills.  Additionally, kids are not learning how to read body language, facial expressions, or vocal intonation.
Poor language skills
Social media communication is different than verbal communication. Often grammar is poor and informal speech is used in the wrong context. Being able to communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings in writing is an extremely important skill. 
Social media tends to focus on speaking rather than listening. Everyone wants to talk about their successes, experiences, and achievements. But who listens? Additionally, being attached to a phone or computer affects listening skills. While multitasking is common, it causes both or all tasks to be somewhat compromised. 
When you’re making friends online and through texts, social media strips the most personal and sometimes intimidating parts of communication. You can keep your guard up when texting, you don’t know the emotional effect your words have on others, and you can rewrite and consider texts before sending. Therefore, kids feel like phone calls are “too intense.”
So, what is an SLP’s role in all of this?
The American Speech-Language Pathology Association (ASHA) includes the following in an SLP’s scope of practice:
Language: Spoken and written language (listening, processing, speaking, reading, writing, pragmatics)
- Pragmatics (language use and social aspects of communication)
- Prelinguistic communication (e.g., joint attention, intentionality, communicative signaling)
- Paralinguistic communication (e.g., gestures, signs, body language)
- Literacy (reading, writing, spelling)
Social media use could fall into six out of the eight service delivery areas mentioned above including pragmatics, literacy, morphology, syntax, and semantics.
Revamping the SLPs role in social media use
Social media requires a balance of form, content, and use. As SLPs, we must transform the way we think of language in this day and age. The reality is that much of the communication in younger generations is happening digitally. If we equip our students with only face-to-face communication skills, they could be struggling to understand/write comments and/or share/comprehend thoughts on social media. Sadly, this leads to social isolation, cyberbullying, and judgment by peers. Cancel culture runs rampant in Gen-Z and below. If a student makes one mistake, one inappropriate comment, one “dorky” Tiktok, their classmates might “cancel” them.
Therefore, we must provide our students with language impairments, pragmatic deficits, and/or reading deficits with tools to foster safe and supportive interactions on social media. In doing so, we equip them with the power to shut down cyber-bullying, to recognize fake accounts and fake news, to respond to comments, to spot false information, to express/comprehend suprasegmental in text (e.g., stress, tone, word juncture), and in turn make safe connections with a diverse group of age-matched peers.
Worldwide Speech Social Skills Group
Worldwide Speech has an online social skills group that incorporates social media education. This week specifically we are working on how to spot fake news on social media. We’re using this website, https://newsliteracy.ca/fakeout/. It has great activities to show how hard it is to spot fake news and provides 3 specific tips to quickly fact check. I highly recommend it. By doing so, we are working on problem-solving, literacy, inferencing, semantics, and technical skills.
If you’re interested in our social skills group, please email email@example.com for more information.
Tips for Parents
- Talk about internet safety https://www.csa.gov.sg/en/gosafeonline/Go-Safe-For-Me/For-Parents/Talking-to-Your-Child-About-Internet-Safety
- Model kind language on your own social media accounts.
- Follow your child’s accounts to monitor their activity. Whether your child logs into an inappropriate website or offends a classmate with a comment on their post, it’s likely they will make a mistake. Turn these mistakes into teachable moments!
- Get involved in your child’s digital world. Find positive activities you can do together with electronics. For example, you could learn how to play the games they enjoy.
- Advise them to think twice before hitting “enter.” Anything they post could come back to bite them. You can teach them not to share anything on social media that they wouldn’t want their grandma, teachers, and/or their future admission officers to see. 
- Be sure their accounts are set to private so they must approve of new friendship requests.
- If your child has an older sibling, ask the sibling to help by commenting on pictures, posts, etc. to give him/her the opportunity to respond to comments.
- Don’t friend strangers. Help your child learn to identify the markers of virus bots, catfishing, trolls, and inappropriate accounts. 
- Keep kids grounded in the real world with limitations on screen time.
- Make sure they’re not posting personal details like phone numbers, addresses, or check-ins. 
- 10 Tips To Keep Your Kids Safe On Social Media
- Following Your Kids on Social Media: 24 Tips for Parents | SmartSocial.com
- Social Media Internet Safety Tips for Parents
- Security Center Kids’ Safety Kids and social media: Online safety tips every parent should know
- How to deal with social media issues kids face online
- How Much Should You Limit Your Kids’ Electronics?
- 10 Tips for Limiting Your Child’s Screen Time
- COVID-19 news sources used by Gen Z and Millennials worldwide 2021
- Fake news and COVID-19: Gen Z and Millennials reactions worldwide 2021
- Effects of Social Networking
- Social media can help teens develop skills – Lifestyle – The Hays Daily News – Hays, KS
- The Impact of Social Media Use on Social Skills
- Impact of Social Media on Kids and Teens – Communication is Key
- Why Social Skills are Lacking in Our World of Social Media
- Good and Bad Effects of Social Media on Teens and Kids
- Teaching Kids to Be Smart About Social Media (for Parents) – Nemours Kidshealth
- Social media negatively impacts young Americans amid COVID-19: survey
- FINAL Coping with COVID-19 Fact Sheet – Coronavirus, Depression, and Social Media