Social Media and Its Effect on Marriage and Families

February 4, 2012 marked Facebook’s 8th birthday. Can you remember life before Facebook, Twitter, etc? I can, but it looked very different. When I started college, Facebook did not exist. I went to a small, Christian university that provided a book of faces of all of the new students during orientation. It literally consisted of your student ID picture, possibly your hometown, and your dorm phone number. It led to multiple prank calls, setting up of “blind” dates for parties, and frankly checking out who was good looking. Compared to today’s Facebook, it would keep no one’s attention.

The research on the effects of social media is limited because it is such a new phenomenon, but plenty of observations can be made at this point. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, a wife, a friend, an employee, and a Christian, I want to know more about how Facebook and Twitter should be used and how they should not be used. What are some of the problems? What are good boundaries to follow? What is an appropriate self-examination system to protect my marriage, family, career, and myself?

If you have been on social media sites for any length of time, you have recognized different trends. Some people use Facebook or Twitter as a place to offer complaints. It may be the weather, jobs, people, or relationships. It serves the purpose of showing friends and family your child’s growth and development. There are those who love to show you everywhere they go during their traveling adventures. Some people remind you that they do not get on Facebook or Twitter much, or they may need to take temporary breaks. Opinions on celebrities, coaches, teams, restaurants, politics, etc. It’s all there. Social media is not a bad thing, but it may be used in unhealthy ways, in regards to individuals and families.

What draws us to these sites? It is a place to belong. It is a place to be affirmed. People like our photos, status’, pages, and blogs. The “Likes” and comments keep us coming back for more. As Rhett Smith says, “It soon becomes an instant source of affirmation.”

So how does this effect our marriage and family? My spouse and I are not getting along so I decide to get on Facebook or Twitter because people seem to love me on there. Keep in mind that we tend to frame ourselves to look better than we are on there, and our families see us for who we really are. If everyone on social media saw us for who we are, would they “Like” us then?

What does the process look like? Since I am being affirmed on Twitter and Facebook, I will turn to those sites more often. At the same time, I may begin neglecting those in my home. The level of community and intimacy that I may be seeking can be found in my own home, but I am settling for instant affirmation through social media. This process could also lead to neglecting my spouse, kids, and family and planning to spend time with those I have met through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.

Rhett Smith compares the social media community with the family community, “Affirmation, love and care in marriage and family is not always easy and not always present. Affirmation, ‘love’ and ‘care’ in online community is pretty easy and often present…online at least. Hmmmm. Where will my time and attention naturally drift to? When things aren’t going well at home, do you head to/drift online?”

This is a point that can easily be reached, but how can we avoid reaching this point? Boundaries and self-examination.

  • How much time are you spending online? How much time are you spending online compared to the amount of time you are spending with your family?
  • Have you noticed yourself going online when things are not going well at home?
  • Are you seeking affirmation from others via social media?
  • Have you formed unhealthy relationships with people online?
  • Share your passwords with your spouse.
  • Talk to your spouse about their concerns pertaining to your internet use.
  • Ask your children if they feel that you are online too much.
  • Find a person or group to hold you accountable to your boundaries regarding the amount of time you spend online and what you are doing online.

There is a form of communication that occurs on social media that may not be healthy. Many times, I have seen people post status’ that are obviously about someone or some group of people in particular. Maybe you have been hurt by someone. You could possibly be confused by someone. It seems as if the hope is there for the person to see your post, understand it, and change their mind or behavior as a result of your post. You could be attempting to find an easier, less confrontational way to communicate a message to a specific person. It is almost like Facebook is a form of therapy, “Ok, I finally got it out in the air!” I would like to caution you against this. It is a catalyst for you to communicate in an unhealthy manner. Yes, the message is out there, but maybe it is sending a different message than that which you want to convey. This could be even more detrimental to that relationship. Writing can actually be therapeutic, so I encourage you to get out a sheet of paper or your “notes” app. Write what you feel or the message that you would like to convey to that person. You can even write them a letter with plans to discuss it. Talking it out can be helpful. Call a friend. Facebook and Twitter are not the appropriate places to convey these type of interpersonal messages. It can cause both the other person and you more damage.

The final warning I would like to make in regards to social media is linked to being lonely. It seems as though the more lonely you are, the more you engage in social media. Be cautious about replacing face-to-face relationships with time on Facebook or Twitter. For those of you who are not married and do not have families, you may think, “Oh, this does not really apply to me.” I think principle remains. Is it healthy to depend on social media to meet my relational needs? What changes do you need to make in order to assure a healthy, balanced lifestyle in regards to your time and activity online?

What can you do to change social media’s effect on marriage, families, and individuals?

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