I thoroughly enjoyed the debate that occurred today between Dean/Amy and Christina/Laurie on the topic of whether or not social media is ruining childhood. As Christina and Laurie highlighted, our childhoods looked a lot different than what children are experiencing now. However, this doesn’t mean it is bad. The biggest difference is obviously technology. As both sides pointed out, there are positives as well as negatives to using social media. These are:
Pros (Taken from Smart Social)
- Young people can feel empowered to teach older relatives to use technology
- It can be used to create a positive digital footprint
- It provides parents an opportunity for open communication
- It helps students learn essential job skills
- It can lead to more communication, connection, and creativity
- You can use it to form or join (support) groups that may not be represented locally
- It offers students a way to stay connected
- It promotes students’ civic engagement
- It spreads social awareness and kindness
- It offers students a way to stay in touch with friends if they move
- You can learn new things
Cons (Take from Roots of Action)
- It lacks an emotional connection when communicating with others
- It gives people a license to be hurtful
- It decreases face-to-face conversation skills
- It conveys an inauthentic expression of feelings with the use of emojis and abbreviations (LOL, SMH, OMG, etc)
- It diminishes understanding and thoughtfulness through the lack of quality conversations
- It causes face-to-face interactions to feel disconnected
- It facilitates laziness
- It creates a skewed self-image
- It reduces family closeness
- It causes distractions
Upon further research, the impact it has on mental health, as Christina and Laurie highlighted, was explained really well in Bailey Parnell‘s TEDxRyersonU talk titled Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health?
She identifies the top four stressors of social media.
- Highlight Reel
- a collection of the best and brightest moments in someone’s life that they post
- this causes oneself to compare our behind the scenes life with others’ shining moments for which we inadvertently scrutinize and question ourselves
- Social Currency
- what we use to attribute value to ourselves in the form of likes, comments, and shares
- this means we put ourselves on the market as a product and base our worth on the value or social currency we get from others
- Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
- social anxiety caused by the fear of missing potential connections, events, or opportunities
- this causes addiction and reliance on social media, taking us away from the present company
- Online Harassment
However, Parnell identifies four steps one can take to media wellness.
Step 1 – Recognize the problem
Step 2 – Audit your social media diet
Step 3 – Create a better online experience
Step 4 – Model good behaviour
I can understand how as adults we can use these steps to edit our social media habits in order to improve our mental health, but what about our students? At what age do we expect them to understand how to mute, block, ignore, and properly respond/react to the negative messages on social media in order to reimagine, redefine, educate others, create positive experiences, and take action in both an online and offline platform. Really, both platforms require similar approaches and I don’t feel it’s necessary to separate the two in this context.
Jennifer Casa-Todd has a response to this question I posed in her article 10 Reasons Why we should start showing Middle Schoolers how to use Social Media. Adolescence is the ideal time to:
- teach the appropriate use of technology because they are “able to reflect on their own thinking, and are able to observe how they learn and develop strategies to improve their learning, as well as when planning and impulse control is developing”
- help navigate the online space and use it positively with open, healthy dialogue
- connect them to organizations, causes, authors and learning opportunities based on their interests
- have conversations about the media and the techniques they use
- teach them their online world is an extension of their offline world and that “every person has the power to give another person great joy by sending positive and complimentary messages online as well as in-person”
- talk about balance and accountability and being a good model of this
- identify when it’s appropriate to respond in person, on the phone, or in a text
Essentially, it all comes down to digital citizenship. If students aren’t made aware of the etiquette that comes along with having an online presence, they may easily get wrapped up in the negative aspects that are available to swallow them up. Once again, you can’t give them a car and expect them to know how to drive. They need to know what speed to go in different situations. They need support to steer themselves in the right direction. They need help to avoid obstacles to stay on the road.
But who is responsible to teach our youth when not everyone has the knowledge and skills to do so, parents and teachers included? We are quick to point fingers and place blame, but have you thought about how you can help as a teacher, parent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, or friend?
All in all, as most of our debates have gone, if used purposefully, meaningfully, and with good intentions, social media is CHANGING what childhood looks like. When students aren’t given the proper skills to navigate the digital world, this is when it can ruin childhood. Jacquie mentioned that experiences on social media, although not all positive, allows us to make teachable moments from the negative and learn from them. However, this needs to be done in partnership with our students and demonstrated by our own actions. There needs to be a balance, education, and limits to social media activities for both adults and kids which also need to be regularly reflected on. Even though lots of things that are happening in the world have been happening for years, such as bullying, shaming, racism, etc., social media is making these worldwide concerns more visible. The skills to address them should not change no matter the media for which we are exposed to them.
How you plan to assist students with steering clear of the negative and finding the positive in social media to help shape their childhood?