I love social media. I love that it makes the world a smaller place, that through technology we can keep up with events and with people from all over the world. I went to a college in my home state where a large percentage of students were not from that same state. Upon graduation, many—in fact, probably most—of my friends of four years ended up in other states, and places far from me. Social media has allowed me to remain connected to them.
Social media also allows us to build relationships with people we never could otherwise. Through platforms like Twitter and blogging, users can connect with people from all over the world with same or varied interests. It’s really an incredible world we live in today.
However, despite the love I have for social media, I feel strongly about the negative impact it can have on today’s youth, and I don’t think I will ever stop speaking out about it.
First of all, I believe that children are introduced to technology entirely too young. I am not a mother, so I am in no place to judge whether or not your children are allowed to play on a phone or watch a video in order to keep them entertained for a time while you get something else done. But just recently a news story popped up on my Facebook feed about children and cell phones, and out of curiosity I started looking at the comments. I couldn’t believe it; I was seeing parents talking, even bragging, about their children’s not just using, but having their own phone. I saw multiple parents say that their children had phones as early as 2 years old…or younger.
The problem is that we don’t know the long-term effects of such exposure. Research suggests that such exposure poses problems for children’s learning and development. Instead of playing with and in the world around them, an activity that requires social, cognitive, and physical effort, playing with an interactive screen gives children the same “reward” (entertainment), without the effort. Development is stunted.
I think we are already starting to see negative effects in today’s teenagers, although all my information is from personal observation, not careful research.
A large number of teenage students have been diagnosed with, and/or are being medicated for, ADD or ADHD. So why can students focus and sit still when sitting in front of a computer, but not when I’m explicitly teaching them? Many people think that technology exposure, which has obviously increased through the years, could be a reason for the spike in ADD and ADHD in youth.
The science behind such concerns may not as yet be definitive, but I’ll tell you what is definitive: social media has had a huge impact on the way teenagers interact with one another. I’ve had numerous conversations with students who seemed more concerned with how many Instagram or Twitter followers they had than anything of more substance. Instead of going home and working on homework and spending time with their families, students go home to look at screens, to continue to communicate with the friends they were with all day at school, and stay up way too late on video games or social media. (Could lack of sleep be why they can’t concentrate in school, instead of disease?)
And not all that time spent on social media is positive. On Twitter, you can find teens “sub-tweeting” their drama. The app Yik Yak gave teens a platform to anonymously post vicious information (true or false) about their fellow classmates for anyone with the app to read. (And I use the past tense word “gave” not because Yik Yak doesn’t exist anymore, but because teenagers, at least the ones I know, have already grown bored of it.) Cyberbullying is on the rise, and that’s with the people that kids know; let’s not even begin to discuss all the apps that allow you to interact with complete strangers and the dangers that poses.
Social media can be a positive technological advance, but it can also be incredibly negative. Most people will admit that social media can be great when used properly and when you’re smart about it, but that it can also be detrimental in various ways, whether it be through lack of time management, or inappropriate usage. And these are adults we’re talking about, who are more cognitively developed, and hopefully more mature, than teenagers. If we have difficulties and problems to address with social media, why are we giving less mature individuals free reign with such powerful technology?
Social media can be used to promote positive, even educational relationships across the globe, or it can be used to destroy relationships with the people one already knows. Teens need guidance in how they use technology. I don’t think they should have access to the internet and to social media at all times with no supervision, and yet many teens have access to the internet 24/7 through their cell phones, with no parental supervision or intervention.
What can we do? Social media is never going to go away, so whether you have yet or not, it will always be easier to say yes and cave to social media because of the societal pressure on your kids and you to do so.
I don’t have a definite answer. In my opinion, two big things are to be informed and talk to your kids. New technological and media trends come up constantly; I’m always learning about new apps from students, never before them (Vine was already huge before I found out about it from hearing students talk. It’s amazing the hours you can waste watching 6 second videos…but they do. And if you do too, you’ll understand all the inside jokes…).
It’s not enough for a parent to have a Facebook profile. Find a way to keep up with the trends, so you won’t be surprised later.
And again: teens need guidance. Talk to them about social media. This can go for more than parents; if you interact with kids on any level, you can have a conversation about social media. Don’t preach, but share your experiences and knowledge. Maybe, hopefully, something you say can make a difference.