Doubling down: Social Media is NOT ruining childhood!

Social Media is ruining childhood.  As a member of the disagree team for this latest debate, I have to admit it has been quite difficult to explore the agree side of this statement.  That being said, I have to express reticence in arguing this statement as I feel that the use of the world “ruining” is much too strong to incite a well-balanced debate.  My initial observations and thoughts following the debate lead me believe that social media is changing childhood in many ways.  In some ways, social media is providing tools and opportunities that youth has not had available in the past.  In other ways, social media seems to be exacerbating certain aspects of the childhood experience.

The arguments that affirm social media is ruining childhood can seem compelling on the surface.  However, upon investigating these arguments, it quickly becomes clear that in most cases, the negative effects attributed to social media use is the result of deeper societal problems that are distilled and magnified through social media.  Social media is giving us a new lens into these problems that have been present in childhood since the beginning of time.  Let us look at a few examples:

In her article: Whatever Happened to Childhood?Rebecca Sweat explores the pressures of which kids are subject in modern industrialised societies. Kids are under constant pressure from mass media, high achieving parents, cultural competitiveness and societal expectations to “grow up” as fast as possible to gain a competitive advantage.  All these pressures seem to be present in the hope to give kids an edge in achieving success in a materialistic and status driven society.  Social media is not at the root of this problem but is definitely contributing to normalisation of these behaviours and these views.  Many of these issues existed way before social media but has definitely accelerated since its arrival.

Liat Clark, in her article: Blaming tech for the loss of childhood innocence is lazy, discusses how the contemporary thought that the internet and, by proxy, social media is to blame for the loss of innocence in childhood. She stresses how access to information is allowing kids get information much early in the development than in the past. As a result, this is forcing parents to have difficult conversations with their kids at an earlier age.  This situation creates a dynamic that positions parents in awkward positions earlier in their lives.  Some parents rise to this challenge and other seem to put off these challenging conversations for later times.  By the time some parents gather the courage to discuss serious topics such a sexuality and human reproduction, it is often too late to have a profound effect on how these kids will perceive these topics in the future.  In this article, one can see how social media and the internet is changing parenting.  Parents who can adapt to these changing times can preserve childhood, parents who cannot, could be putting their kids on the difficult path of life.  Once again, not necessarily a social media problem, but a human problem.

I particularity liked this opinion from serendipitymommy.com:

The final piece of the ‘childhood has been lost’ puzzle is the intense pressure on children to grow up to fast. This pressure comes from magazines, TV shows, films and peers and whilst there is certainly more pressure on children in today’s world, the responsibility for the child falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents. Parents must educate their children well regarding outside influences, teach them not to be taking in by fads and crazes, give them a little freedom to be their own person and reign them in if they are trying to be too much too soon. It sounds easy but it is far from it and there are some influences that you simply can’t control, you just need to make sure that you have an open dialogue with your child at all times and help steer them towards a happy childhood.

Once again, I could not agree more with the author, social media and technology is not the central reason for changing childhoods, it is the changing of relationships between kids and parents that are not keeping up with the rate of change of technology and social media.

The prevalence of cyberbullyingis without a doubt one of the strongest arguments that affirm social media is ruining childhood. Intimidation and bullying has been a reality of childhood for decades and maybe even centuries.  One cannot contest the statistics that demonstrate how the raising prevalence of cyberbullying is, without a doubt, an issue that must be tackled.  As a victim of bullying during my childhood, I have difficulty blaming social media for this issue.  It must be said that social media provides an effective vehicle for potential bullies to exercise their urges.  The anonymity of the internet and the distance from the victim though the use of social medial creates a perfect storm of conditions that are conducive to enabling bully behaviour.  In this situation, prevention, supervision and proper interventions with the proper supports have to be part of the solution as opposed to blaming social media. I argue this is once again, a deeper societal issue that seems to be amplified through the optics of social media.

When talking to my students about the subject of cyberbullying, I often use the analogy of drinking and driving. Most people agree that drink and driving is a horrible thing that can have grave consequences for both the victims as well as the perpetrators of this act.  The cars are not the basis of this problem, it is how we as a society (specially here in Saskatchewan) don’t do enough to prevent and support people who, under the influence of alcohol have the urge drive.

As a society, we seem to be in a time where we are still trying to find the place of social media in our lives and everyone is in constant adjustment not knowing how to go about the challenge.  When evaluating the place of social media in childhood, I find the TED talk by Baroness Beeban Kidronto be quite compelling as a basis of understanding on how to proceed as a society.

In her talk she argues for the digital rights of children.  She summarizes these rights as follows:

  • Right to remove
  • Right to know
  • Right to safety and support
  • Right to informed and conscious use
  • Right to digital literacy

As a teacher who is living in a world of social media, I choose to highlight the good and the positive that social media can bring to childhood.  For this I recommend you take a few moments to re-watch the disagree video presented by myself, Erin and Brooke.

In retrospect, I’m might hypothesize that social media is not ruining childhood, but rather, social media is changing society at such a furious pace that our ability to form new social conventions and social contracts to attend to these changes is proving to be too slow. I’m confident that through renewed digital literacy and tough intense public awareness actions, we can successfully adjust to these changes and come out as a more compassionate, caring and open society.

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