Something has been sitting strangely with me about social media lately; while there are amazing benefits to the endless information acquired through the internet there are also some unfortunate habits being created as well. Do you ever just look around while you are out in a public setting, everyone’s eyes are glued to their devices. Raise of hands, how many people feel as if we are more connected than ever but have taken a huge step backwards in authentic face to face interactions. The next time you are out to dinner take a survey of the room, you will find that most groups and families, including moms and dads, have their faces planted into their phones. I am surprised these people are actually finding their mouths to eat let alone talk to one another! Human bonding is the process of development of a close, interpersonal relationship between two or more people, it is the energy you feel when you are actually with that person, verbally expressing words, listening and sharing an experience. These feelings cannot be experienced fully through your phone.
Do I use this technology, of course I do; who doesn’t anymore other than some elders that just don’t want to use it, my father included. Society has jumped on board and would practically scratch their eyes out to get the latest and greatest smartphone. When I was in sixth grade, I remember looking forward to computer lab. It felt as if I wasn’t even at school, “Come on kids sit down and play your computer games.”, not a problem! I didn’t see it as learning necessarily, I saw it as having fun in a setting that was generally boring for me; games like Mavis Beacon teaches typing (my personal favorite), blasting cannons into space with Math Blaster! OR simply trying not to die of dysentery on the Oregon Trail, to name a few. When we got our first home computer I could not be more excited to show off my skills and to share these beloved games with my mom, who was a computer enthusiast at the time and quite frankly still is. That is where it began for me, transitioning into chat rooms in my pre-teens and then before you knew it you don’t know how we lived without it.
As a kid I would never have imagined that 83% of the US would be walking around with a mini computer in their hand. It is amazing how quickly we have normalized this trend and now WAY OF LIFE. Even when my son was a toddler he could navigate my phone, swiping with a flick of a tiny finger and clicking on every single icon in seconds! All the bright colors appealed to him, so like most parents I installed some animal noise apps, pop the balloon apps and few more that were educational and entertaining. Some would recommend zero screen-time for children under the age of two years old. I do not disagree, but for my very active toddler at the time the technology was never enough to engage him for an extended period of time nor did I allow it to take over our precious playtime together.
Our daughter got her first basic phone when she was around ten years old and by the time she was thirteen she had an Iphone. While this age is appropriate in my opinion, we did monitor her activity and encouraged her to go to hang out with friends rather than texting back and forth all night. Those real time interactions are much more rewarding than indirect communications. Teens and pre-teens are so very impressionable and having a close knit group of friends is important to their ripening process. In the world of social media platforms that sound so fun and enjoyable, we ask where can it go wrong–I can think of a few.
First of all, we have all been around bullying at some point, social media or not. Growing up there was the ever present, Newton’s Cradle effect–one day you could all get along and by the next day someone is being forced outward. This is never a good feeling (also an inevitable growing pain) and you spend your day wondering what you did wrong and what they are saying about you. The next day the very same people have pulled you back in and are ready to repeat the effect on another friend. It is such a predictive force constantly swinging and it has plagued youth for decades. In this day and age since the social media boom, that hatred is now publicly posted—not only for you to see but also everyone else in that friend circle. Slimey, huh! On top of everyone now knowing your personal business, the words seem to be with a much sharper tongue. Many of these venomous words are being spewed with the feeling of no consequences because they are hiding behind a screen and on top of that more comments will be made underneath that post either defending or supporting, both just adding to the drama. Bullying breeds anxiety and poor self esteem and cyber-bullying only adds another dimension of emotional harm for the simple fact that those kids cannot escape their tormentors online or offline.
Another growing problem (as described above), there is an addiction problem. Let’s go into this a little more–Both teens and adults on average check their smartphones 150 times a day or every six minutes, according to a “New York Times” report. Research that was published in “Clinical Psychological Science” found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to one risk factor for suicide, like depression or suicidal threat. Something that seems so harmless can have its dark side; social media platforms have a strong association with body image issues, questioning self-worth and the feeling of loneliness in this world of hyper-connectivity. Going a bit deeper–the number one cause of teen deaths is texting and driving. We have this strange urge to always be checking our phone for FOMO (fear of missing out) even if it could endanger our lives. This is a sad fact and we need to be talking about this more to our children and face the reality ourselves.
With so many teenagers having some kind of device by the time they are 10 years of age, these trends have begun to take hold of their lives in other ways too. One big one that comes to mind is it is a productivity killer. I know for myself it is very easy to get lost on the Pinterest app and when I finally come up for air I have wasted half a day. It leaves you feeling as if your mind was abducted into another dimension–the pursuit of a new paint scheme, oh…those are really cute shoes….NOW wait a second, how did I end up in how to make your own doggie treats world? None of these things will I invest my time in or buy, total time suck! Kids can flip through an array of things that can be very educational but it can very simply turn into an obsessive scroll and they can just click there way through the day. A 2017 study published in the journal of Child Development did a comparison of teens from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and found today’s teens are taking longer to engage in both the pleasures and the responsibilities of adulthood. We need to encourage our kids to go out and be apart of real world experiences, not living their lives through social media.
So now that you are aware you might be wondering, what can I do? Well the easiest and most obvious is to check in with yourself and look at your online activity. Social Media is here to stay and impacts all of us in some way, we just need to recognize the problem. Constantly checking your notifications or the highlight reels in your feed only drives your kiddos to do the same. You cannot tell your kids “Do as I say, not as I do”, you have to model good behavior. When you take time to put your phone down and be present, they will notice. If you start monitoring how much time you are online, you can breed this responsibility in your children. Talk to them and make a pact to be mentally available with one another and put your family on a social media diet. Dust off those old games, find a good book to read, explore a new cookie recipe together, go hiking, heck you can even watch a movie as long as you are fully spending your time together without your nose being buried in your phone. Not only will this stop or prevent some of this addictive behavior it will promote patience, encourage family bonding and help your kids learn the importance of these life skills. Find your escape through the world that surrounds you, without the phone, and watch your kids bloom. While there is no getting around social media and current technology, as it can be a guilty pleasure at times, taking the time to pause will create a healthy change in your family/relationships and create a better online experience.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”