This story is part of an ongoing series by Colorado Community Media, exploring mental health in Douglas County.
Part III of the series focused on how social media might be affecting the mental health of today's teens.
• Concerns about social media
• "Survive today and have an amazing future
• How to help kids manage social media
• Schools test out cellphone ban
With an enrollment that surpasses 2,000 kids, it’s unlikely Brett Siebert will run into friends between classes as he rushes through the busy hallways at Castle View High School in Castle Rock.
To stay connected, Siebert messages them on Snapchat, a popular app where photos, messages and videos disappear after a certain amount of time. To keep up with peers who have moved away, he uses the photo-sharing app Instagram.
“I go to a big school and it’s kind of hard to bump into people,” said Siebert, a well-spoken junior who exudes confidence. “It’s very positive sometimes because it allows you to stay in touch with people that you wouldn’t stay in touch with.”
Although it shouldn’t replace face-to-face interactions, social media can be a positive tool for keeping in touch with others and finding relatable social circles, mental health experts and organizations say.
In a 2015 national survey conducted by Pew Research Center of teens ages 13 to 17, 83 percent said social media makes them feel more connected to information about their friends’ lives, 70 percent felt better connected to their friends’ feelings through social media, and 68 percent had people on social media platforms support them through tough or challenging times.
Emily Laux, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, promotes a balanced view of social media.
She recognizes the faults, such as a greater presence of cyberbullying and sexting, but she also sees benefits. Social media allows for connection and a sense of belonging for young people who struggle to fit in, she said.
“Social media at its core is a resource to connect people,” said Laux. “It’s been an asset for some kids that really struggle in social situations.”
And the interactive component of social media provides a sense of connectedness that young people typically don’t get from traditional media, like television or Netflix, Laux pointed out.
“Kids are learning some social skill," she said, “which has been proven to be slightly better for kids than traditional media use, where they are passive consumers of information, not engaging with the material.”
Siebertcan recall only one negative experience he has had since he joined social media platformsthree or four years ago. In that instance, he called out an individual who posted an insensitive remark. Siebert ended up blocking that person.
“It can do good if people are smart about it,” Siebert said about social media use. “I use it to keep in touch with my friends.”
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