Is Social Media Ruining Childhood?
I grew up in the era where the internet and social media was just emerging. I can remember being in elementary school when ICQ and Yahoo Instant Messenger was just emerging. Though we were dealing with dial-up internet that was often unreliable, these new instant messaging web services were huge!
We could now visit with our friends and make plans, but we could also connect and meet new people. I don’t think “digital safety” was ever something we worried about, nor did we ever think chatting with these people would result in anything, except making a new friend. Surly “stranger danger” did not apply!
Soon after, we were introduced to chat rooms, and interactive games that allowed us to open up the world and interact with so many more people. I do remember meeting a boy online and chatting with him on a regular basis. We would exchange pictures and meet in the chat room regularly. I never worried about the chance that he could be anyone other than who he said he would be.
Today, things are different. The internet and online social networks have evolved a lot. According to Statista the number of social media users worldwide is constantly growing and by 2021, it is projected, that there will be 3.2 billion users around the world. Not to mention that there are now well over one hundred well known and popular social media sites around the world. (I tried to find an exact number and topped out at 105, though I am sure there are many more out there!) The desire and attraction for today’s youth to join or get involved with social media is outstanding. I think about my own daughter and her fascination with my Facebook account, or her desire to have her own Snapchat account. When I ask her why she wants it, she explains it is because she loves playing with the photo filter features. She is not aware that others could find and contact her.
Social media certainly has it’s advantages: it has allowed me to stay in touch with friends from my youth, it informs me of various current events, it has helped me to share events, or announcements with others, and it is entertaining! All of these features are great for adults, however for youth, under the age of thirteen, they do not require these same advantages. When children access social media, they are doing so to typically “play around”. Children often find they are using the media for things it is not necessarily intended for, such as posting inappropriate pictures, following strangers, posting mean or rude comments and striving for the most “likes”.
Today’s youth seem to have become obsessed with receiving LIKES on their social media sites. The like receiving the feedback and instant gratification received from posting on their site. This gratification also comes at a cost. What happens when they do not receive enough likes, or when someone posts something that is hurtful? The results have been detrimental. Today’s youth are on the search for recognition, or even the possibility of fame! There have been success stories of Youtube sensations who have been discovered because of their social media presence, however the likelihood of that happening is quite low. This strive for fame and recognition has lead under-aged minors to be posting things online that are pushing the boundaries of what is appropriate. When something is not received well, then the results are often tragic.
The prevalence of suicide among youth is on the rise. The frequency among youth has been steadily increasing every year. We cannot assume social media is to blame, however the prevalence of technology and cyber-bullying if way to obvious the ignore. Because our youth are on the search for acceptance and are at an age where their impulse control is still developing, they are at a greater risk to post things they may regret later, or make decisions that are not fully thought through. I am not blaming social media for the rise in suicide, however it is certainly may be a contributing factor.
I love using social media, however I am an adult that is aware of the dangers, repercussions, and consequences attached with using social media, particularly if it is inappropriately. I actually think thirteen is quite young for youth to be accessing social media. I believe they are still quite young and immature to be accessing, posting, and commenting on these types of sites. I have witnessed students who have gotten themselves into a lot of trouble because they are not old enough to handle the freedom social media allows them. By increasing the age, maybe they may be able to handle it a bit better. That being said, many children under the age of thirteen continue to sign up and do not even know that an age requirement is intact.
PARENTS….yeah, I am talking to you!
It is our job to ensure we are monitoring our children and their activities online. Kids are sneaky and they hid things real well. We need to outsmart them and wise up! We need to educate ourselves on some of the social media options, track our children’s accounts, and have open communication about what they are doing when they go online. This is no different from checking in with your children’s friends they hang out with and ensuring they are safe! Privacy has nothing to do with it! It is our job to protect the youth and we cannot allow them to enter the world of social media blindly!
As a mother, teacher, and tech enthusiast, I am terrified for the day when my children begin using social media. I am going to ensure I do everything in my power to ensure I am prepared and educated to support them and keep them safe!