Thought Factory Podcast #104 || Social Media Part 1: Symptoms on Display

In episode #104, we discussed social media affects all of us whether we like it or not. It’s not a fad or a trend, that will eventually go away like acid-washed jeans and jelly shoes.  What if we could get inside the minds of students to hear directly from them about what they think of it, how they use it, how it is affecting their world, their culture, our world, and our culture?  Social media has its advantages and disadvantages.  It can be used for good or evil.  There are plenty of digital platforms for a student to display what is on their mind and what is going on in their world at a moment.  But, when we deal with the root cause of an issue and not the symptom, we can begin to better assist students in navigating the world they live in, especially on social media.

So we wanted to journey into the minds of students and get more of their perspective.  In the podcast, you will hear a phone interview with 4 different high school students as we compare it to the research we did with 3000 students across the country on this topic.

The questions we asked the students on the phone:
When did you get a smartphone?
How much are phones prevalent when you are hanging out with your friends?
Do you think that phones are too intrusive into you and your friends’ lives?
Which app do you use the most?
How much do you think students plan what they post?
How much time do you spend on the average post?
Do you know a lot of students who don’t use social media?
Is there a link between “likes” and value/self-esteem?
Have you thought about ways social media can be used to talk about God and the gospel?

From those 3000 students, we had 82% report they own a smartphone, which is similar to the national average of 80% when asked if they own a smartphone.

How old were you when you first had your own smartphone?

Less than 10 years old // 9%
10-12 years old // 37%
13-15 years old // 34%
16-18 years old // 6%
I don’t have a smartphone // 14% (slightly lower than the previous question)

So nearly half of the students are getting a smartphone by middle school, especially at an age when they are asking so many questions.  Google has become the ultimate answer to every question they ask – sex education, a fact checker, or simply a guide for life.

Google is not the best counselor or best option for the relationship outlets of their life.  There are relational benefits to social media, but it is not their best option, relationships still are the most important thing that matters.  Especially when middle school is so tumultuous.

Cell phones have become the default way to spend time together and/or by themselves, whenever there is a spare second.   Sixty-two percent of students spend 3-5 hours a day on their phone.

Which app do you use the most?

Snapchat // 37%
Instagram // 27%
Facebook // 8%
Twitter // 6%
None // 22%

Is Snapchat bad?
We ask that question because of Snapchat’s impermanent nature of sharing photos, where they would be short-lived and self-deleting, opening up to the possibility of the user sharing inappropriate photos of themselves.

But social media is ultimately an extension of the person.  Even though it has become a scapegoat, it is just the symptom of what is in a person’s heart or the behavior of that person being displayed.  Social media is not the root issue even though we can easily blame it.

If people are deleting posts because they don’t get enough likes – pride comes in, as they don’t want something on their record that is not well-liked and are things that are factored into everyday lives.  Where are students getting their worth from, by the amount of time they spend on social media?  Social media has become a massive part of how we think of ourselves, but it is just the top of the iceberg of what is going on in our life.

We assume 100% of students are on and use social media, but according to the data, 18% do not use social media.

How selective are you with what you post to social media?

I put a lot of time and effort into my posts // 19%
I put some time and effort into my posts // 50%
I don’t think about what I post // 7%
Anything goes // 6%
I don’t use social media // 18%

Why do you post to social media?

Want to gain a larger following // 8%
Want people to know where I am and what I am doing // 27%
An issue or cause I believe in // 6%
What I post is typically random // 41%
I don’t use social media // 18%

So in our podcast, we discussed this juxtaposition of the two stats:

41% of students’ posts are random, but nearly 70% spend significant time into that post.

Students are thinking about things at the moment and not necessarily the larger picture or long term.  They spend a lot of time every day, not just posting but thinking about what they will say about this random thing.

What do we do with students that don’t use social media?
How do we get students to make the connection of what they post and what it may mean in the larger picture of their life?
How can we encourage students to leverage social media for their faith or for a great cause?