Different ≠ Bad

All throughout high school and my first couple years of university I used to sweat through my shirts. I still to this day don’t know what I was nervous about at that time, but regardless I was eventually able to break that trend. It hasn’t happened in over half a decade. That was until yesterday. In hindsight I should have expected that being in the center of quite a controversial debate topic would bring the level of nerves required to do that. I’m not embarrassed about it though. I think it’s cool that I got to be in that position amongst others to discuss a topic so many of you are clearly very passionate about.

Correct me if I’m wrong but based on course introductions I believe I’m the only one in the course who has not been a teacher at some point in their professional career (Unless you count the six half days I did in my first year before eventually switching to economics. I sure don’t). So, I personally don’t have any stories or experiences firsthand of the possible negative impacts from social media. In fact, the only kids I ever really see are my two nieces who will be turning 5 & 2 later this year. They’re still too young and haven’t really been impacted by social media.

Even personally I rarely use social media. Here’s a guy who checks Twitter only for sports highlights, Snapchats almost solely my fiancé, and still has 0 posts on his Instagram account because I never open the app. Side note, I’m just going to continue to call it Twitter. I think that’s a pretty common feeling many people have since the name change. I have no attachment to social media, and I think combining that with the fact that I haven’t seen firsthand how it can affect kids allowed me to approach it with a completely open mind. Obviously that is besides the fact that come debate time I’d have to argue that it’s not affecting childhood. Of all five debate topics this was the only one that I felt like I sat perfectly on the fence before signing up. That made me want to do it even more. When I first read the statement, my initial thought was “Yeah it is ruining childhood”, but then I thought of my own childhood.

I’ve always been into video games, especially thanks to my older brother. And while we grew up in a household where that wasn’t a problem there were still countless times where I heard or read articles stating it actually was a problem. That always rubbed me the wrong way. I had a great childhood. I played a variety of sports, I enjoyed school, but I spent my fair share of time playing video games. They always had unique problems to solve, they made me more social and allowed me to build stronger friendships with friends that I still have today, and most importantly they brought me joy. Although for some reason in my teenage years I was reading that they were an issue. All of these articles that were essentially vilifying the childhood I had. Making me feel misunderstood and disconnected from the older generation. Like almost every teenager has at some point, this was my “Adults just don’t get it” moment.

Flash forward to one week ago it was like a sudden realization that I was turning into the adult that a young me would’ve been so frustrated with. I’m not a child, I have no way to know if they’d be better off without it, but what I do know is that if I was in their shoes and an adult was trying to claim something I enjoyed was evil, especially without doing any research, I’d feel incredibly annoyed, and rightfully so. From that moment I wanted to do young Josh proud.

When researching articles, I found it very difficult to find any that only sided with our position, and I think that’s fair. As much as I wanted to prove that there were no downsides for children that was simply an impossible task. As mentioned in Social media is shortening our attention spans “We’ve all become dopamine addicts; it’s being fed to us by our phones. Social media has taken over our attention spans through quick and instant gratification”. If this can happen to adults it can happen to children. Whether there’s research to back that up or not is nearly irrelevant to most people. We can feel the addictiveness when we use it ourselves, so it’s an easy assumption to make that the more susceptible mind of a child would be in even more danger.

So how do we protect them from this addiction? I stand by saying that it comes down to parenting and education. Obviously getting them to spend less time on their screens is the starting point, and as Rachel Ehmke suggests in How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers “the best thing parents can do to minimize the risks associated with technology is to curtail their own consumption first”. One thing that I have caught onto from my nieces is that if they think someone is doing something cool or interesting they will want to mirror that person. If kids are seeing us on our phones all the time they’ll want to feel included in that. Putting down our own phones is the first step in properly educating our children, but it goes much farther than that.

One recommendation that I loved was by Candice Odgers. In Debate: Is Social Media Bad for Kids’ Mental Health? Candice recommends that parents stop setting a limit on screen time, and that it’s a common argument for most parents and kids on how much screen time is allowed. The focus should instead be on making sure your kid is getting enough physical activity, that they’re sleeping enough, that they’re doing well in school. I may have a bit of a bias to this approach because that’s how I grew up, but in my experience it was effective. I wanted to spend time playing games, but I knew that in order to do that I had to prioritize schoolwork. It’s an effective method, and one I plan to try and replicate one day when I’m a father.

Until we can better understand social media ourselves, I think it’s too difficult to say if it’s bad for childhood. What I will say is the same thing said in our conclusion. Childhood is different than what it was, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. We really won’t know the effects it has had until kids grow up and can tell us themselves. But every experience is different. What’s bad for one kid might be fine for another. I guarantee that some kids will grow up and say they had a horrible childhood, and others will say they loved theirs. They’ll say that the cyberbullying was too much and they couldn’t escape it, and others will say that the resources social media provided gave them a space to feel the love and acceptance they were unable to find offline. I can’t say that social media is a all positive, but I also wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s ruining childhood.

There was a video I stumbled upon during my research that didn’t focus enough on social media for me to want to include it, but I think it’s main point ties in well. A teacher named Sean Arnold gave a presentation titled What’s the Problem With Kids These Days? Maybe it’s Us. He discusses the Ephebiphobia (fear of adolescents and teens) many adults have and its prevalence in each generation. He talks about all the common things adults blame “the problem with this generation” is. And he points out that we love to rant and rave about what’s wrong with kids today, but we don’t make an effort to actually help solve the problems. If you have the time I’d highly recommend giving it a watch/listen.

Perpetually Online

Despite what I might tell my eye doctor when I go for a check up, if I’m awake there is a very high chance I’m using a screen. Let’s be honest, we’re living in an online world. Technology is virtually inescapable. In fact, in my line of work I can’t do my job without it. I am an Assistant Instructional Designer at the University of Regina. What that means is that I spend my work day developing and maintaining the online classes offered through the university.

Most online courses offered through the university run through URCourses. This is the hub where all course sites are held. It allows students to access the courses they’re in for the current semester, and it allows me to access the courses I support (Which often tend to be any course that begins with the letters F through N). URCourses isn’t actually a unique creation by the university. It’s an L.M.S (Learning management system) known as Moodle. Over the past five years I have become fluent in Moodle. Gathering a better understanding of the little intricacies to consider when creating resources and activities such as quizzes, assignments, forums, books, videos, and my personal favourite H5P’s

H5P’s are interactive content that can be placed into a course, or anywhere where H5Ps are enabled. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to add any H5P content to this blog. That’s too bad as I had just created a couple slides with two buttons where you could only proceed by pressing the green one:

H5P’s have been a fantastic addition when developing classes. Often instructors like to use them as a no risk “Test your understanding” activity at the end of a book or unit. They can also be used to break up content when it’s just blocks of text one after another. H5Ps can be smaller activities like one off multiple choice questions, or fill in the blanks. Bigger study materials like flash cards or drag and drop questions. And even bigger concepts that might seem out of the question at first. My favourite example of this is a murder mystery activity I created when I first started at the university. It seemed like an impossible task at first, but with a lot of hard work turned into one of the best projects I’ve worked on. Students work their way through the mystery, investigating clues, interrogating suspects, and using knowledge learned in class to find a reasonable explanation for the murder that has occurred. Just look at all of the branches!

But this work couldn’t be completed without the help and input of my coworkers. I work fully remote, but easily stay in contact with everyone via Zoom’s messaging system. We can share documents and ideas, help problem solve when we’re running into unforeseen issues, or just take a moment to share a laugh or some GIFs to showcase our mood. Zoom helps us to stay connected even without in person contact.

When I’m not working there’s still a very high chance that I am doing something with technology. Whether that’s playing video games with friends, watching Netflix/YouTube, walking my dog and listening to Spotify, or more recently, reading articles and doing research. We’re living in an online era, and I am here for it!