There have been a lot of debates where I have been ambivalent about which side I support. Each time I seem to come away more and more divided on where I stand. In the debate about whether or not social media is ruining childhood, I find myself taking my firmest stance so far.
Social media represents a huge threat to childhood. While there is no doubt that childhood is a fairly modern social construct, I still believe that it should be protected vigorously. I often tell my students to treasure this time where their lives are simple, and not marred by the mundanities of adult life. Kids are always, however, in a hurry to grow up, and social media facilitates that more efficiently than anything that we have ever seen.
Social media is one of the primary means that kids use to communicate now, and as the forbes article that one side shared highlights, it is frought at best. Meaning is constantly missed or lost, and the depths of human emotion simply can’t be emulated by emojis. Romeo and Juliet would be far less romantic if Romeo had just texted Juliet a few eggplant emojis. The Forbes article goes on to talk about the loss of authenticity in messaging, and I couldn’t possibly agree more. Tone is often lost, and subtleties of expression, sarcasm, and other complexities of speech can’t be found.
More than anything, though, I think about how my school has banned tech in lunchrooms and at recess, and how there was a massive uproar at first. Students simply didn’t know what to do with themselves. Interestingly, they didn’t really know how to sit down and just have a conversation. It had to be modelled and demonstrated for them so that they could sit for half an hour and visit with their neighbours. When I asked how they communicated before, they told me that they were simply texting back and forth, because it was “easier” in their words.
Maybe that’s the crux of this whole problem. Social media is more superficial, less meaningful, and provides a wide range of acquiantances, but a shorter list of true friends. It is undoubtedly easier, though, and since kids thrive on instant gratification, that “ding” that goes off on their phone, or that “like” or “favourite” on their post fulfills that need. Give a mouse a button that releases dopamine, and it’ll push it until it starves to death. We’ve given our kids a device in their pocket that releases dopamine every time they touch it, and we act surprised when it consumes them. (Take a guess what my stance is on the unplugging debate. Go ahead, guess!)
On the flip side of this constant confirmation that social media provides, there is also the threat of constant abuse. The article from Huffington Post captured this nicely, and the damages go well beyond suicide. Every post that kids put up on social media is a minefield. A simple misstep can lead to huge online backlash, as we have discussed repeatedly. While some would argue that kids are unaware of these risks, I feel that they are acutely aware of these risks, and as such, there is yet another stressor in our kids’ already shockingly stressful lives.
Social media is causing severe damage to the time of our lives which is meant to be idyllic and carefree. Our kids are stressed, and we’re adding in extra stressors with social media. I’m somewhat against social media in general, but in the case of kids, I think that it is to be avoided, without a doubt.