8th Grade: Social Media and Your Teen


by Tasha Tormey

Broaching the topic of social media usage and self-image with our teens is often challenging—talking about it in a vacuum, even more so. Pop culture films, such as Bo Burnham’s 8th Grade, shed some light on real issues affecting our teens.

8th Grade captures the subtleties and awkwardness of middle school angst with a focused lens on social media’s effect on self-image. The film centers around Kayla’s vlogging in which she unsuccessfully competes with her more ‘popular’ peers. While her classmates garner constant affirmation in the form of likes, comments, and followers, Kayla’s posts receive zero likes, comments, or views—which only fuels her insecurities.  

Although fictional, 8th Grade provides insight as to how social media shapes a teen's self-image. Because 8th Grade aptly captures the Gen Z experience, this film inspires discussion between parents and educators as to how we foster and instill healthy self-image for our tech-savvy kids.   

Here are 3 ideas we can use to improve our relationship to social media and to create a better dialogue with our children:

1: Examine our Relationship to Social Media

Often children mimic our own relationships to social media. They observe what we do and how often we use our phones, computers and television. This is an important time to evaluate our relationships to Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Take this time to journal your answers to the following:

I use my: 

1.     Instagram:                   rarely               often                daily                 3x daily or more

2.     Facebook:                   rarely               often                daily                 3x daily or more

3.     Computer:                   rarely               often                daily                 3x daily or more

4.     Television:                   rarely               often                daily                 3x daily or more 

Do your answers surprise you?  Are you more or less dependent on social media than you expected? 

2: Keep It Positive

In theory, social media should enhance feelings of connectedness and foster a sense of community. In reality, it sometimes has the adverse effect, leading to feelings of comparison, loneliness, and isolation, despite having more knowledge about our friends' whereabouts. How do we create positive relationships to technology and use it as a bridge rather than a necessity?

Some questions to consider:

How do we use social media to enhance our social relationships?

Do we celebrate others’ achievements on social media, or merely our own?

Do we FaceTime family members, call our friends, or write letters with our children to show that there are many ways to connect and communicate?

Do we ever put someone down using social media? 

Do we speak to our children about how we feel they can enhance their relationships on/off of social media?  

3: Establish Boundaries

We encourage creating boundaries and time restrictions on all technology and screen time. Research by San Diego State University in March 2018 claims that “phone addicted teens are unhappy”.  In fact, the happiest teens usesocial media less than 1 hour per day.  However, screens should not be cut out entirely. After all, technology and social media are an important social aspect to most teens’ school life experience.

Some questions to consider

Do we allow cellphones at the dinner table?

How do we talk about internet safety with our children?

Do we have internet blockers?

Do we create opportunities for unsupervised internet usage?

Do we follow our children on social media and if not how do we maintain communication to protect and guide them?

Are we open to discussion with our kids about our concerns?

Social Media is inevitably part of the future and it is part of our child’s educational experience. Engaging our children about social media, safety, and boundaries, is tricky and will take time to navigate. But, it can be done.