Our second debate this week was regarding whether social media is ruining childhood. I admit that at one point I would have agreed with this, and now I don’t. I think that social media can negatively impact a child, or anyone for that matter, but I no longer am blaming the technology for this for the same reason I don’t blame hammers for hitting my thumb.
Articles such as this one from the Huffington Post highlight many of the dangers of children using social media. Bullying that goes on 24/7, self-esteem issues from not receiving enough likes on a post, sleep deprivation from receiving messages and updates at all hours of the night. These are not healthy behaviours. Growing up without social media, I wasn’t exposed to these types of issues. I’m glad. I can’t imagine the pressure that kids these days are facing.
In the chat during class, I mentioned that mental illness is much more common in developed countries, and I think it’s partly due to increased diagnosis, but also due to the stresses and anxiety that come with the lifestyle. Social media can be overstimulating! I find myself anxious and stressed out when I check Facebook after an 8 hour absence because there’s all these posts and news stories and I feel that if I don’t check things out I’m missing out on something important. I think it’s important for our brain to have ‘quiet’ periods where we are not being bombarded with stimuli after stimuli after stimuli. I think this is extra important when we are kids as our brain hasn’t figured out quite as well yet how to process items in terms of what’s important and what’s not, what we should focus on and what we can ignore.
Another particular issue with social media is the feelings we have when we get a glimpse of other people’s lives. It seems like everyone else has the most amazing lives!! Social media allows us to put forth the image of our lives that we want people to see, and we tend to provide a narrative that isn’t indicative of life’s ups and down’s, but heavily weighted on the ups. Thus, when utilizing social media we can often be left with feelings of inadequacy. The sad story of Madison Holleran is evidence of how social media can have negative impacts on our mental wellbeing.
Social media, however, is not going anywhere. And it shouldn’t! I know being on facebook can be a cause of anxiety for me, and you’d think being aware of that I would choose not to check, but I like feeling connected! It’s really become my source for news as well. The benefits for me outweigh the negatives. There are negatives, but I have developed the discipline to learn how to use this tool in a way that brings me the most amount of enjoyment while limiting the negatives. When you use a hammer, you can miss the nail and hurt yourself, but it also helps you get that nail into the wood! Social media is popular because it generally brings a lot of enjoyment and benefit. It’s not going away, but there are known dangers and issues, and so we need to shift our focus to teaching people how to use the tool in an optimal way, minimizing the risks and dangers.
For education to really make a difference, it needs to be a sustained effort. Jeremy makes a good point about this, saying that digital citizenship in schools needs to start young and be more than a one hour presentation. It is crazy how young some kids are when they are getting their first Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat accounts. We can have all kinds of digital citizenship discussion, but keeping in mind the focus is on a child’s wellbeing, these tools have the potential to be very addictive and so we need to explicitly teach kids about responsible use of technology. Much like in driver’s education, we all know that driving a car has some potential consequences, so we provide explicit instruction, theoretical and hands-on, to train the users to be able to use the technology responsibly.
With proper instruction, kids can gain the advantages of using social media which are highlighted in the article ‘5 Reasons You Don’t Need to Worry About Kids and Social Media’. One of my favourite reasons included in this list is that it can provide a sense of belonging. Here I’m going to throw in my favourite TED Talk again by John Green as he talks about how we can find and belong to a community of learners online. You can have the most obscure interest in the world, yet I bet somewhere else in the world there are a few other people who share that passion and you can connect with them and feel a real sense of community.
There are for sure some real dangers that can come along with social media use, particularly for kids. Social media is a part of this world now, and even if we simply banned kids from using it, they will tap into it when they are older and they’ll face the same issues then that they would have when they were younger. I have had to learn over the years how to use technology and social media to enhance my experiences in life. I have gotten much better at being able to use technology and limit the consequences that can come along with it. It took time though, and that’s with me being a disciplined adult. If we just leave kids alone to their own devices (pun intended), it can be difficult to figure out how to use the technology responsibly, and so we should help guide them through this process so that they can ultimately become self-sufficient, responsible users as quickly as possible. Luke’s blog ‘Is Social Media Making us Unsocial?’ also calls for us as teachers to be involved with helping kids reflect on their social media usage so that they can find the right balance in their lives.
Live long and prosper