TikTok TikTok… Childhood is running out

TikTok TikTok… Childhood is running out

This week’s debate (1 of 2): Social media is RUINING childhood.

Lonely girl sitting on a doorway
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As pointed out during the debate a couple of times, ruining is certainly a strong word. It is also interesting thinking about childhood and the biases each new generation holds regarding what makes a “great childhood”; each age group seems to have had it better than the one that succeeded them for various reasons, one being the digitalization of society. A common outlook is viewing today’s children as missing out on what it truly means to be child (spending copious amounts of time outdoors with the neighbourhood kids, only coming inside for a meal or by some other parental request). I have heard many parents of school-aged children now doing the opposite, requesting their children get off of their devices and go play outside instead. But is digital technology, and specifically, social media, truly destroying the childhood experience for the younger generation? Here is what the debaters had to say:

Agree Side:

  • More time on social media means less time children have to be outside and practice creativity
  • Social media companies have minimum ages of 13, indicating that these platforms are not made for children
  • Social media can replace in-person relationships with more superficial, online ones
  • Cyberbullying is more pervasive through social media can have a further reach
  • Safety issues arise when children are spending time using social media platforms
  • Children are exposed to advertising and false information which can be harmful to their developing cognitive functions
  • Children can be come overly reliant on validation and recognition from “likes” and “comments”

Disagree Side:

  • Online socializing can create & strengthen bonds
  • Social media allows students not to only be consumers of knowledge and learning, but also producers.
  • Social media decreases the isolation that children may feel by allowing for connectedness in online spaces
  • During the pandemic, social media was one of the only means of staying connected with friends
  • Marginalized students have the ability to seek out others with similar values and life experiences in ways that real-world communication doesn’t allow
  • They included a swimming pool analogy – we wouldn’t throw a child into a pool without any prior learning or explanation; similarly, we should teach our students how to use social media in a positive way that does not contribute to a “ruined” childhood

Following the introductory videos, opening statements and rebuttals, thoughts were added to the discussion from classmates. Nicole W. Offered that it is too extreme to say that social media is ruining childhood; Jenn offered the idea that childhood has evolved from what many of us experienced; Mike contributed the important idea that the possible presence of online predators shouldn’t outweigh all the good that social media can allow and that students are already becoming better equipped to deal with social media issues; Gunpreesh talked about addiction, alluding to the developing child brain and the potential susceptibility for it to be more significantly impacted by the harmful effects of social media; Dami noted that digital identities can be curated in ways that real-world identities cannot. There were many other insightful and thought-provoking comments made during the open portion of this debate.

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Diving into the readings, both sides of the argument have valid points to offer. In this video, shared by the agree team, Matt Walsh discusses how kids are living out their childhoods in digital worlds and that he’s intentionally chosen differently for his children. In contrast, the disagree team shared this article that highlights several examples of young people using social media to enact real positive change (with some seriously feel-good stories).

As a relatively new parent, this topic has me thinking about what kind of rules/guidelines I will have around social media and tech use for my child once she’s a bit older. The first concern that came to my mind, besides online safety and privacy, is the impact that social media has on cognitive development in children. This led me to a few articles (here, here and here) that discuss some research findings around this topic.

The first article outlines the steps parents can take if they decide to allow their children to use social media to minimize risk and maximize benefits.

The second article I found somewhat by accident; I was googling if and how social media is detrimental to a child’s cognitive functioning, and in doing so, I actually found more reasons why it can actually be beneficial, which surprised me. The article references a study of 4,500 young people and how screen time affects their cognitive development from adolescence through adulthood, beginning in 2015. From the data collected, there was little influence from screen time or social media on the outcomes. If this is the case, then what is all the fuss about?

Well, the third article tackles the subject of what social media use does to the brain. Physiologically, excessive social media use causes the brain’s ability to maintain focus and attention to decrease (the article actually uses the words “shrinks parts of the brain associated with maintaining attention”). It discusses dopamine release associated with social media use and instant gratification, reinforcing reward pathways in the brain. Finally it touched on memory, highlighting the affect that social media has on transactive memory, in which the brain decides which information is important enough to store.

Close up of smart phone
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

So in turning back to our question “Is social media ruining childhood?”, both sides crafted a compelling argument, and further research certainly doesn’t help me know for certain if it is or is not destroying those precious, innocent years. One thing that’s undeniable is that childhood certainly looks different than it did a few generations ago. The whole world looks vastly different than it did even twenty years ago. It’s quite safe to say that digital technology, the internet, and social media are here to stay, in addition to whatever new developments are made in this field over the next several years. Perhaps it is a better use of our time and resources to accept that social media use is going to be something our children engage in, if not now, then at some point before they are adults. Talking about and teaching positive, responsible, and respectful social media use, including how to maintain balance with the offline world, rather than banning its use for children completely, might sooner lead us to our ultimate goal of kids having happy, enjoyable childhoods that extend into adolescence and adulthood – maybe even better than the ones we had.

3 thoughts on “TikTok TikTok… Childhood is running out

  1. I liken social media to driving motor vehicles: they can be both incredibly useful (getting us where we need to go), a potential safety risk (injuries, fatatlities, etc.), and alternatives exist that are better for the collective good of society (mass transit, biking, walking). We know that cars are extremely dangerous: according to transport Canada in 2020 alone there were 1745 vehicle related fatalaties, 7868 serious injuries, and 101572 injuries total. As you noted with social media, despite the undeniable risks, cars are going nowhere. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle so to speak. Now we need to work on mitigation strategies (laws, regulations, public service campaigns, education) to protect ourselves and others. I think the difficulty we are facing is how new this is to everyone. We have coexisted with vehicles for 100 years now, but as you’ve stated social media is extremely new to us. I think that in another 50 years we will look back at this period of time the way we look back at people who didn’t wear seatbelts.

  2. Hi Christina,

    Great summary on both sides of the debate, the required articles and videos. They are quite interesting to read and watch. I agree with you that banning social media is impossible for children who are growing up in this digital world. Instead of banning everything, teachers and parents need to educate them on how to use social media appropriately, such as monitor screening time and digital leadership, and teach them how to maintain balance with the offline world. Like Matthew said, social media is like driving motor vehicles: they can be both incredibly useful and have a potential safety risk, but we can’t ban driving motor vehicles. What educators can do is teach drivers (children) how to drive motor vehicles safely (how to use social media safely). Great post!


  3. Debate #2- technology has lead to a more equitable society- I disagree

    Article One: A social media weapon for good. The attacks highlighted in this article and the students speaking out on social media is evident that there are greater problems for youth. They are speaking out on social media. This reflects a strong voice for the youth involved in this attack. It also speaks to the injustice of people in the world, from terror attacks, mental health terrorist attacks. This article also highlights the gaping holes and missing solutions to effectively address these fundamental issues.
    These articles were an interesting view of Technology and the need for restructuring, greater vision and solutions to create an equitable situation for all.

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