Social media has existed for a long time. Sites like Digg, Reddit, Hi5 and MySpace dominated the world of social media for some time in the past. Yet, it is only in recent years that the effects of social media whether on teens, business or celebrities has been given special attention. Of course, this is due to the sheer and immense popularity of current social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Facebook and Twitter have become nearly inescapable facets of modern life, particularly for teens. So what are the implications of this, especially for us in the Caribbean? What are the effects of social media on youth in the Caribbean?
Firstly, without a doubt, the use of social media in the Caribbean is largely narrowed to the use of Facebook and Twitter. While there are many other social networking sites in use, Facebook and Twitter are by far the most popular. These sites allow users to interact with each other and are where children and adolescents are spending a lot, if not most, of their free time. So, what kind of an impact is all that time spent fraternizing over technology instead of in person having on today’s Caribbean youth?
Social networking sites are where teens socialize and where they connect together today. They do not have the numerous places or the time to ‘hang out’ like their parents did. Social media allows them to have time to reconnect in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Social media encourages teens to connect with each other and to express their creativity. They also provide an opportunity for learning, and are a way for teens to access information. The problem is this, is this form of socialisation done in a way that is all-encompassing?
Caribbean people are social people. Social connection and interaction are important marks of Caribbean people. With the largely stifled social interaction of teens, will it not be a short matter of time before the real definition of “social” changes? Stressing social interaction among teens is one of the most critical functions of Caribbean society.
Technology is an extension of what goes on in the real world. Bullying was around before the Internet, but cyber bullying makes it even easier when it isn’t face to face situations. Moreover, children seem to be predisposed to experiment and push boundaries. This includes sending, receiving or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs or images.
Another worry is that, when preteens and teens spend too much time on social media sites, they may begin to show classic signs of depression, such as changing sleep and eating habits, experiencing mood swings, spending time with different “friends” or becoming socially isolated.
Our young people are the custodians of our society and the trustees of prosperity for future generations. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Caribbean region, where two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30. As the important role that young people play in national and regional development becomes increasingly apparent, it becomes obvious that we need to safeguard the characters’ of young people. Parents, teachers and professionals need to be ready to intervene and help educate children and young adults on balancing the cyber world and the real world; and on how to be more media literate, so that they can evaluate the types of things to which they are exposed.
By Norvan Martin