My very first college class was introduction to psychology. It was a mandatory class and I figured that there were would be very little, if anything, of value to me. I was wrong. I was introduced to a theory that would not only be covered repeatedly over the course of my college life, but also in my life as a marketing professional.
That theory was Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In short, it teaches us why people behave as they do, based on what motivates people. Look at the pyramid image shown below.
To understand how the theory works, start at the bottom of the pyramid – the Physiological needs. These needs are fundamental to life itself. Without them, a human body could not live. They include things like food, water and sleep, to name a few.
The Safety needs come next. While not exactly needed to survive, they provide a huge boost in the difference between simply being alive and living a life. Examples would be having a good/safe home, family, health, etc.
The middle level is reserved for Love & Belonging. Friendship and intimacy are huge factors here and this is where social media begins to have an impact on people’s lives, especially teenagers. Peer pressure and the desire to be part of the “in crowd” can make teens crave attention. Social media is an outstanding tool to get that attention. Having a large number of friends, followers and connections is part of a teen’s social status, but it’s also part of our DNA, according to Maslow.
My biggest concern is related to the quote in the picture below by a teenager who participated in unique study last year on how teens use social media.
By focusing so much on having the most friends and followers, the emphasis is clearly on quantity over quality. Improper, or more often, non-existent vetting of a potential social media connection opens the door for online predators. Look at the video shown below and see just how bad it can become. Notice that some of the kids were specifically warned not to do exactly what they did, as recently as a week before this video was taken.
Above that come the Esteem needs, those relating to confidence, achievement and getting the respect of others. A non-social media example would be having a great career or being a member of a prestigious country club. Online, it can mean having the most followers or subscribers, or being asked for advice from peers. While there is nothing at all wrong with being in such a position, I question the validity of it when the person has no long-term relationship or when it is done anonymously, which is often the case with many online sites.
Finally, at the top of the pyramid come the Self-Actualization needs. They come only when a person realizes their own personal abilities and traits, both good and bad. There are very few people who actually achieve this level. At this point, for those that do achieve it, the impact that social media has on a person has probably diminished quite a bit. They no longer need a high number of friends and followers to feel satisfied with themselves. It’s a goal for everyone to strive for, both parents and teenagers.