Social media plays a critical role in connecting teens to new friends, allowing teens to learn more about new friends and get to know them better. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of teens who have made a new friend online say they have met new friends on a social media platform. Two-thirds (62%) of teens say they’ve shared their social media username with a brand new friend as a way to stay in touch. Beyond making new friends, social media is major way that teens interact with their existing friends. More than nine-in-ten teens (94%) say they spend time with friends on social media. Fully 30% say they spend time with friends on social media every day, and another third (37%) say they do so every few days. When asked to rank the ways they communicate with friends, social media sites like Facebook or Twitter are one of the top ways of communicating with friends for two-thirds (66%) of teens.

What steps can I take to deal with it in my life?

In our fast-changing, technological world, new innovations – phones, computers, tablets, and gaming systems – are marketed toward young consumers every day. Most of these devices boast of high-speed internet capabilities, ones designed to link you ever closer to your friends, family, and classmates. It is important, though, to remember that the internet is as wide and vast as outer space; once you post information on the web, such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram, you no longer are the owner of that information. Whether it’s a picture or your personal background, sharing the details of your life on social media means that you have published that information for the whole world to see forever. Nothing ever goes away on the internet. Being mindful of a few facts will help keep you safe as you navigate through cyberspace.

1. As in real life, don’t talk to strangers on the internet. Unfortunately, some people exploit the internet as a tool to harm others. Child predators – molesters, kidnappers, and traffickers (people who sell other people into slavery) – scavenge through the internet looking for vulnerable children that they can target. They try to befriend you, win your trust, and then trick you into meeting them. Don’t do it! Anyone that seems too nice, too good to be true, is often just that – a phony! Trust your instincts if you think someone is approaching you inappropriately. Notifying your parents is a great way to nip devious behavior in the bud.

2. Don’t fall into a “time suck.” The internet can be a great way to explore a wide variety of topics that interest you: travel, geology, fishing, origami, and sewing are just a few. You name it, the internet can point you in the right direction. You can even have social gatherings on the computer by creating a Google Hangout to see and talk to friends at the same time. Be careful, though, not to have too much fun online! Posting pictures and status updates to social media can easily get you caught in a “time suck” – you might think you were posting online for 10 minutes, only to look up and see that an hour and a half has slipped through your fingers! While wasting time may be okay on the weekends, your schoolwork and family time are important priorities in your life. Balance your social media usage so that your homework and face-to-face relationships don’t suffer as a result.

3. Be kind. Remember, just because you’re sitting behind a computer screen doesn’t mean that there aren’t real consequences for your actions. Before you post something online, ask yourself, “Would I want someone to say something like this about me? How would I feel if a person shared a picture that I wanted to keep private with the whole school?” If you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a mean public message, resist the urge to post one! Even if someone did something bad to you, you don’t have to cheapen your humanity by attacking them online. Take a moment, think about it, and then talk to a trusted adult if you still need to process the event. What we post on the internet stays on the internet, so don’t bully or say hurtful things about others. No one wants a record of bad behavior following them through life forever!