The role of the like button

Help youth understand that the like, thumbs-up or heart icon on social media platforms cannot be the only tool to make decisions.

No matter what your opinion is on social media, it is here to stay and play a major role in everyone’s life. According to Teens, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015 from the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of teens reported going online daily while 24 percent reported saying they were online almost constantly. In addition, according to Pew Research Center’s Social Media Update 2016, a majority of American adults utilize social media in some form. An important way youth and adults use social media is to read and respond to posts by friends and family. The like, thumbs-up or heart icon is a very quick and easy way for people to stay in touch with others in the online world.

It is important to consider the role the like can play in people’s lives. Feedback people receive online has a huge impact on the decisions people make, their emotional health and emotional stability. “The power of ‘like’” article from Science News for Students provides a nice overview of research that was done to see how youth’s brains respond to different images online with varying numbers of “likes.” Receiving a like, thumbs-up, heart icon, etc. can be like a reward to the brain and make a person feel more valued because youth value feeling liked, socializing with others and getting feedback from friends. Overall, being online is extremely important to youth and they spend a great deal of energy and time to develop, create and find ways to hang out with friends online because the online world meets many needs of youth.

Adults who work with youth need to help them understand that the like, thumbs-up, heart icon, etc. cannot be the only tool to make decisions. Michigan State University Extension has some considerations that all parents and adults working with youth should help them think through:

  • Have youth think about the following: What do you notice people posting online? Are you seeing moments of challenges in people’s lives or more often that everything looks perfect in people’s lives?
  • Have youth think about the risks others are portraying online and if that is something they really want to engage in.
  • Help youth think about the implications that certain online decisions might have on one’s life. For example, having a criminal record, harder to get a job, broken trust with parents, friendship that was shattered.

The like, thumbs-up or heart icon are a huge part of social media and it is important to understand how they can quickly change how someone feels value. We need to help youth understand that the online world cannot be their only way to feel valued in life. 

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