Debate #2: Social Media is Ruining Childhood

This is my week to shine!

Ok, in all honesty, I do not enjoy presentations of any kind to peers or colleagues, so I was both nervous for the presentation, and very happy once we were done! And then I took a couple of days off to relax, and here I am wrapping up a written glimpse into our research, and my own take on this topic.

Brendon and I were on the “Disagree” side of the debate prompt: Social Media is Ruining Childhood. And luckily, there are, actually, a lot of things that I disagree with when it comes to that statement. There was a lot that Bart and Valeska had to share that I agreed with, too, but if I had to take a side, I would still sway to the one I was debating. But here’s what we found as we were doing our research.

Is this a clear-cut issue? Again, no. It’s very complex, and very much still under investigation, as social media platforms are fairly recent, and data is still being compiled looking at what the impacts are, how much of an impact it has, how social media is being used, etc. I was in my late teens when I got into MSN Messenger, I was in my 20’s when I opened my Facebook account, in my 30’s when I also moved to Instagram. There are a lot of platforms I still don’t use, and have no interest getting into, but the ones that I do use, I quite enjoy! I was a young adult when I really got into social media, is my point, which changes the way that I was introduced to it, and the way that I used it, both initially and through the years. Our young people are getting a much earlier introduction to social media, which is changing the way that they use it, as well as the impact that it has on them. I think we can all agree that younger children and teens are more impressionable than the average adult, and we need to take that into consideration as we are introducing our kids to some of these platforms.

Having said that, do I agree that social media is ruining childhood? No. No, I really don’t. And here’s why.

Social media is a tool, and I don’t believe that we can blame the tools that we use for decisions that we make. Does social media make it easier to make questionable decisions? I could see that being an argument, yes. There’s a lot less accountability, it’s easier to type things anonymously than it would be to say them in person, there’s a lot of negativity out there to encounter – but couldn’t that be said of real life as well? The same way that we learn to filter out the bad influences from our lives, the negative people, we need to learn to focus on the positive sides of social media. And there is a lot out there to inspire us!

Eva Amin, a high school student from the States, gave a TED talk looking at just this concept.

Eva states that teens are often warned of all the negative effects, the horrible people who use social media to catfish the unsuspecting, or kidnap the naive, but we don’t get into how to avoid these, and use social media in a beneficial way.

Are there horrible people out there, preying upon our young people? Yes. I don’t deny that. But they aren’t unique to, or isolated to, social media. And I believe that by educating society, raising awareness, integrating some of this into health education, the same way that we teach ‘stranger danger’ to our kids, teaching kids to use social media wisely (and I can think of few ways to use it, even in ELA), we could shift some of the negative perceptions people have about social media, and really refocus the way that people see and use it.

Most of the literature that we came across looked at both sides of social media – the good and the bad. Jacqueline Nessi’s article, for example, “The Impact of Social Media on Youth Mental Health: Challenges and Opportunities”, examines some of the potential downsides to social media use, but it also acknowledges some of the benefits. And as much as she acknowledged that social media could have an impact on the mental health of some young people, she also points out that social media presents an unprecedented opportunity “for increasing mental health awareness.”

Australia is onto something, too. A couple parenting websites that look at some of the same ideas and issues that Nessi studied include Social media benefits and risks: pre-teens and teenagers, and Social media and teenagers. The latter states that:

“Being socially connected is very important for the psychological development of your child, and in this day and age, the online environment is where they get a lot of this. By connecting with others through social media, your child could:

    • Develop better social skills
    • Feel less isolated
    • Learn about new cultural and societal ideas and issues
    • Bond with their friends
    • Have fun
    • Be creative and share their own ideas with friends
    • Be better equipped to be active citizens in society
    • Develop real world skills to help them become more independent
    • Learn about world events and current affairs outside of their immediate environment”

And those are recurring ideas. Connection. Socialization. Creativity. Awareness. And here’s more evidence that social media isn’t all bad. Sherri Gordon wrote “Surprising Ways Your Teen Benefits from Social Media”. Gordon writes that social media doesn’t have to be a scary thing, but it takes some guidance and communication. She says it’s important to “make sure you are nurturing the positive aspects of social media as well as discussing the dangers. By doing so, you will help your kids develop social media savvy, a skill that will ultimately help them in the years to come.” Madeline Holcombe explores the teenage take on social media in “Teens say their experience on social media is better than you think”, and she looks at how parents can sometimes have a skewed perception of how things are going because “[o]ffloading their negative experiences with social media to parents is one of the ways tweens and teen cope.” So parents often hear about a lot of the negative drama, or things that aren’t going well, but we don’t always get the update or positive outcome when things are resolved, or when they’re going well.

So. Is social media the be-all and end-all? No. But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. There is definitely room for improvement in the way we use social media, and I won’t argue that social media use isn’t without risks. We need to remember that social media is just a tool, though, and like with any tool, the user needs to be taught how to use it properly. What does that look like? It depends why people are using it, and I think that needs to be a question that is asked of parents and educators when they are introducing social media, or become aware of what their kids are using. We can’t blame the tool, though. And even if we were, to blame social media for ruining childhood overlooks too many other factors that contribute to a child’s physical and mental well-being.

And just in case you need a little more:

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