According to a new study by World Vision, there has been a big jump in teens who say social media makes them more aware of the needs of others.
The 30-Hour Famine study, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that more than half of teens say social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have made them more socially aware.
This is a huge increase from 2011 when only 44 percent said their use of social media made them more aware. The study also found that 2 in 3 teens (68 percent) agree that the benefits of social media outweigh the risks.
"The jump in the number of teens who say social media sites make them more socially aware is a sign of the times," said Regina Corson, senior vice president of Harris Interactive, in a released statement.
According to Pewinternet.org, a project of the Pew Research Center, "Social media use has become so pervasive in the lives of American teens that having a presence on a social network site is almost synonymous with being online." It found that 95 percent of all teens ages 12-17 are now online and 80 percent of those online teens are users of social media sites.
Michele Tvedt is the 30-Hour Famine national manager, which is an initiative of World Vision. She told The Christian Post via email that social media is effective because it makes teens more aware of the needs of others. The problem is they don't always know how to get involved on a practical hands-on level.
"Teenagers are being trained that pressing 'like' on Facebook or retweeting something on Twitter is 'taking action,'" she said.
This is why World Vision is using its 30 Hour Famine initiative to give teens a practical way to take action.
At the end of this month, thousands of teens will go hungry for 30 hours to raise funds and hunger awareness. They will only consume water and juice as they participate in local community service projects at food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
"The 30 Hour Famine teaches students that to care for the poor, it takes sacrifice … and it takes students from [a] somewhat passive action sometimes found on social media to sacrificial, proactive, educated action," Tvedt said.
This hands-on and proactive approach is effective. Last year 200,000 teenagers participated in the fast raising $10 million.
The funds raised through the 30 Hour Famine are used around the world to fight hunger. This is the main reason it exists, but Tvedt told CP that the initiative is also geared toward educating and empowering teenagers.
"Social media allows a greater reach to teenagers and more open and honest conversation," she said. Right now on Facebook and Twitter, 30 Hour Famine is asking followers to take part in 30 days of fasting, which Tvedt is in the midst of herself.
"Every day, students are encouraged to fast from something different. One day students were asked to fast from shoes and think about the children that walk barefoot for miles every day to gather water. Another day they were asked to sleep next to their bed with only one blanket and think about those who don't have the comfort of a nice bed and warmth," she said.
This has led to increasing awareness by students about the "intricacies of poverty in a way they have never experienced before." But it is also showing them how blessed they are, Tvedt said.
She noted that teens are open to new ideas and initiatives, and "want to create change – we just have to give them opportunities to do so."
Funds raised this year for the 30 Hour Famine will be sent to 10 countries including Haiti, the Horn of Africa, Burundi, Malawi, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Almost 22,000 children die each day from hunger and preventable diseases. Chronic poverty, affecting half the people on earth, is the cause. Nearly 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day.
This year's 30 Hour Famine will take place on Feb. 24-25, and again in late April.