It’s hard to imagine life without social media. These days, you rarely meet anyone who doesn’t have an account on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. It’s easy to see why people love these sites. Social media lets you stay connected to your friends, even when you can’t hang out in person. But there’s also a downside. Social media never forgets. What you post can be viewed, saved, and shared, even after you think you’ve taken it down. For this reason (and a few others), social media can be used as a tool for bullying, and stirring up major drama.
Don’t worry. That doesn’t mean you have to disconnect from your accounts, and drop off the grid. All it means is that you should consider taking some steps to make sure your social media accounts are helping, and not hurting, your social life. Take a look at these do’s & don’ts, and use them as a guide to be sure the choices you’re making online, are benefiting your offline relationships.
Think before you friend: Instead of worrying about getting the most friends/followers on the internet, focus on building an online community of people you trust. When you’re at school, you probably aim to surround yourself with people who care about you, and respect your feelings. You should do the same thing on social media. Keep your profile set to private, and don’t approve “friends” or “followers,” who aren’t nice to you in person. Sharing too much with too many people can open you up to bullying, and social drama, so it’s best to keep your online community limited to the people you actually hang out with offline.
Be respectful: Just because you’re saying something from behind a computer screen, doesn’t mean it can’t get you into trouble. Boundaries are important, even on social media. You can show that you respect your friends’ feelings by keeping any mean, or inappropriate comments to yourself. You can show that you respect their privacy, by getting permission before posting their pictures. If someone you know is offended by one of your posts, you should consider removing it. You may get a sense of freedom from being able to post whatever you want on social media, but first, you should always consider the impact it will have on your real-life friendships.
Keep building relationships in person: While social media is a great way to stay connected to your friends, you shouldn’t let your online conversations replace face-to-face interactions. Leaving a comment on a friend’s post may be easier than starting a conversation in the cafeteria, but it’s hard to strengthen a friendship, if you’re not actually spending time together. Keep joining activities. Keep participating in conversations. Make plans to hang out with your friends outside of school. This will help you have a happier, and more well-rounded social life.
Treat your profile like a journal: Thanks to social media, you can share all your thoughts with all your friends, in one minute or less. But that definitely doesn’t mean you should. Keep in mind that highly personal stories and emotional topics are best discussed in-person, with the friends or relatives you trust most. Posting about these things on the internet can leave you vulnerable to criticism and teasing, which will only make the situation worse. If you’re looking for a place to vent, try writing your thoughts down in a journal before you sign on to your social media account. And if you’re having a really terrible day, it may be a good idea to take some time away from the internet altogether.
Obsess over “likes”: It can be easy to fall into the trap of counting the number of “likes” you receive on a given post, or tracking the number of friends/followers your account has gained. But just like in real life, obsessing over the approval of others can cause you tons of stress and disappointment. Remember, there’s a lot more to friendship than “liking” each other’s latest profile pictures. As long as your friends are respectful, caring and supportive toward you, you probably have nothing to worry about.
Let cyber-bullying slide: *Bullying is never okay, in any form. Just because someone isn’t being mean to your face, doesn’t mean it’s not hurtful. It can be difficult to admit to your parents that you’re being bullied on social media, especially because people can say such harsh things, when they have a computer to hide behind. But keep in mind that your parents want you to feel supported, and be happy. Opening up to them about a cyber-bullying situation could feel awkward at first, but it’ll be worth it, if they can guide you toward some solutions.
*Remember, bullying occurs when someone repeatedly and intentionally takes steps to make you feel bad. You may not like every post that pops up on your feed, but if it’s not directed at you, you don’t need to worry about it. Your friend may send you a hurtful message during an argument, and while that’s not okay, it is also not considered bullying, and you can most likely resolve the issue with your friend directly.
Just like face-to-face interactions, exchanges over social media are subject to some unwritten rules. Even though you may be miles away from your friends/followers, you’ll still need to pay attention to boundaries, and be careful about who you choose to trust. That doesn’t mean that signing on to Instagram should be a stressful experience. It simply means that taking some time to learn the rules will make your experiences online much more positive, and help you avoid running into awkward situations when you sign off.