Social media, interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests, and other forms of expressions via virtual communications and networks. Childhood, the state of being a child. The time of our lives to learn, grow, explore, create and imagine. With create being a commonality in both social media and childhood, it is difficult to imagine that they would not benefit one another yet the popular belief that social media is ruining childhood continues to persist.
Week 6 of the Great Ed-tech debate provide my EDTC 400 class with the opportunity to put the belief that social media is ruining childhood under the spotlight and critically ponder the depths of this idea. I was expecting this debate to be another tricky maneuver and that there would be several strong arguments in favor of both sides as per usual. The depth of conversation that emersed surpassed my expectations and demonstrated the complexity of the topic and the importance of considering one’s personal biases in correlation with their opinion in regards to this belief. The idea that social media is ruining childhood is commonly vocalized in public by members of older generations but never have I heard a child complain that social media was hindering their time to be a kid and I think this was important to keep in mind during our class discussion. The class vote prior to our debate illustrated an almost perfect split which is vastly different in comparison to prior weeks and another indicator that our class’ conversations would be controversial. Our class’s discussions permitted the majority to sway towards the side disagreeing that social media is ruining childhood but in the end, I think we all left with many new perspectives to critically consider.
Arguments for the Agree Side
Miss. Lauren Sauser led the pro side of this debated arguing that indeed social media is ruining childhood. Her introduction video for the debate outlined four key arguments in support of her stance that were backed up by significant research and statistics. She also shared many examples that corresponded to her arguments and strengthened the claim that social media is ruining childhood.
1) Social media is damaging to children’s mental health: Research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medicine school determined that the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed. Lauren further explored the relationship between social media use and depression and found countless studies that connected social media use to an increase in the rates of depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, hyperactivity, and several others mental health concerns. An article written by Katie Hurley acknowledges how the emphasis placed on receiving “likes” causes teens to constantly be comparing themselves to their peers. These toxic comparisons can lead to symptoms of depressions and anxiety and are ultimately not healthy for the human mind. A few key areas of concern that Lauren addressed were FOMO (the fear of missing out), and Facebook depression. FOMO is a feeling of anxiety due to a belief that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media websites. FOMO can cause children to become consumed with their devices which takes away from critical activities such as sleep and social interactions which in turn impacts their mental health. Similarly, Facebook depression is a form of depression that often arises from children and youth spending extensive amounts of time on social media, such as Facebook as defined by this research paper. Despite the emphasis placed on Facebook by the name, all social media platforms have the potential to contribute to symptoms of depressions due to the feelings of social isolation they may cause. The consuming nature of social media and toxic comparisons it initiates are problematic for children’s mental health.
2) Social media is addictive and making children less social: The addictive nature of social media is concerning when considering the social life of youth. Many individuals spend so much time on social media that it begins to interfere with their everyday life. Statistics from Common Sense Media report that the average 8-12-year-old spends 6 hours per day online, with the average for teenagers jumping to a whopping 9 hours per day which is over 3 times the recommended online time for children according to by the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. An article written by Aofie Reilly states that children “are more than likely growing up with a lack of key life skills such as being able to read or riding a bike” due to their time being spent on devices rather than with toys and objects that members of past generations would associate with their childhoods. Lauren expressed how since children are able to participate in instant messaging, commenting on photos, and liking each other’s posts that they are becoming less social and detracted from face to face interactions. Texting and online communicating places people in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible. Communication outside of devices is a vital life skill but due to the ease and addictive nature of social media, it a valid concern that children today may become socially disabled as described in Melissa Chalos’ article.
3) Social media contributes to digital footprints and privacy concerns: A major concern with children using social media is that they are yet to learn about how to appropriately conduct themselves online and they are unaware of the dangers that can arise in regards to what they choose to share. Without having this knowledge, children are likely to share inappropriate content and information online oblivious to the fact that it will be online forever, and accessible to the public. These posts then become part of their digital footprint and could affect them negatively in their futures. Many social media sites ask for users to share information about themselves, including their full name, address, birthday, where they go to school, and personal photos of themselves. Yousra Zaki’s article discusses how sharing of this information can easily lead to unsolicited messages which are especially dangerous for gullible youth who do not know how to determine if they are being targeted online. When considering digital footprints it is also important to remember that even if a child is not posting pictures of themselves or personal information it is likely that someone else is which also contributes to their digital identities. The internet is forever, and social media activity is always being documented which is a scary thought for children who are not properly educated.
4) Social media facilitates and fuels cyberbullying: Cyberbullying has been brought up as a concern during several of the debates in our class’ great Ed-tech debate series due to its cruel nature and increasing popularity. The severity of cyberbullying cannot be ignored and is an undesirable net effect of social media use amongst youth. Lauren shared statistics with our class from Teen Safe stating that nearly 35% of children admitted to being victims of cyberbullying and 87% of children reported seeing acts of cyberbullying occur on a regular basis. Hiding behind a screen allows people to be more expressive than they would in face to face public encounters which becomes dangerous and creates amplified attacks on individuals’ character and well-being. An article titled Cyberbullying: Social Media and Teen Depression describes how “our culture has embraced limitless access to smartphones from a very young age, giving children privacy and autonomy in an online world where boundaries don’t exist”. Puresight is a resource shared with our class by Lauren that summarizes many real-life stories of cyberbullying including some that have led to serious implications including suicide. I am familiar with the well-known and heart-wrenching story of Amanda Todd that was brought up during our class discussion and I believe it is examples such as this that truly exemplify the unfortunate power of cyberbullying. Due to the rise of social media, cyberbullying and suicide rates have increased rapidly making which is an excellent argument as to why social media is a danger to childhood.
A powerful argument supporting Lauren’s side of the debate that was brought up during our class’ discussion focused our attention on children’s need to document everything. When at a concert or sporting event, it is common for youth to become concerned with capturing the perfect photo or getting it all on video rather than living in the moment and embracing the opportunity. I worry that due to this desire to document one’s life on social media, children may miss out on having fun and never learn how to enjoy life outside of their devices.
Arguments for the Con Side
Miss. Kylie Lorenz argued the opposing side for the debate providing arguments for why social media is not ruining childhood some of which illustrated the polar opposite by demonstrating how social media can benefit childhood. Her introduction video did a fabulous job connecting to her past Ed-tech learning experiences which strengthened her claims and demonstrated how this belief is difficult to consider independently of other Ed-tech conversations. She also made connections to current events happening in our world as evidence to support her claims.
1) Social Media opens doors for children: Kylie made a connection to one of her EDTC 300 lectures led by Dr. Alec Couros which I was also fortunate to have been apart of to convey this argument. Alec talked to our class about how his children have taught themselves many skills and been able to document and share their progress through the use of social media platforms. His daughter learned how to do makeup and his son taught himself to play the drums by watching Youtube videos. Today they are able to film their own tutorials share their talents with online audiences. Similarly, in EDTC 300 we all had the opportunity to partake in a learning project where we were tasked with teaching ourselves a new skill through and document out journey the use of digital platforms. I highly relied on Youtube to learn ASL and found it to be incredibly helpful and intriguing that I could learn a brand new skill without having to leave m house or spend any money. Michael Sheehan’s article discusses five reasons why social media is beneficial for children with one of them being how that new “things” are shared all of the time on social media which enables “discovery and learning in ways that we could never have imagined before”. Sheehan also argued that social media enhances creativity which was an argument I brought forward during our class discussion. Digital tools allow children to be imaginative and creative and through the use of social media, they are able to share their personal creations and be inspired by others. Social media provides countless opportunities for children to discover, explore, create and be exposed to limitless learning opportunities.
2) Social Media permits children to take a stand: From national walk out of school days to protest gun laws, to the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge, crowdfunding social justice projects, and the use of social justice hashtags, children all over the world have been able to find their voices through means of social media and advocate for positive change. In my post summarizing last week’s debate, I addressed how after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting, a group of students became activists to have the gun laws changed in the United States and were able to rally together students against gun violence walkouts across the entire country. What they were able to accomplish through the use of social media is incredible and would never have been possible without it. Through social media, children learn about significant societal issues happening all across the world. As a child, watching the news was never overly interesting to me but through the use of social media, children become informed about important news stories through engaging means and are able to help spread the word and call for action. Caroline Knorr’s article states that ” as kids begin to use tools such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and even YouTube in earnest, they’re learning the responsibility that comes with the power to broadcast to the world” and are provided with a voice to help make our world a better place to live. Kids becoming social justice advocators and leaders will lead to a strong and independent environment.
3) Social Media promotes mental health initiatives: Contradicting Lauren’s argument concerning how social media is damaging to children’s mental health, Kylie made the argument that social media promotes mental health initiatives. Social media offers many foundations and resources that help the victims of bullying. The Effects of Social Media on Children written by Angela Barnes and Christine Laird addresses how social media can provide social and medical support that can be sought anonymously by children who are suffering from symptoms of mental illnesses. Platforms such as Bell Lets Talk Day, which advocates towards becoming a caring country that is stigma-free, Pink Shirt Day which aims to raise awareness of bullying and raise funds to support programs that foster children’s healthy self-esteem, or the Kids Help Phone which is a national 24/7 support service available to the public. All three of three examples demonstrate how through the use of social media, children can learn that they are not alone and do not have to suffer in silence. By promoting campaigns against bullying online, children again have the opportunity to express their voices and make a difference in our world.
4) Social media is embedded in our society and children can learn to embrace it: Acces to social media in today’s world has arguably become unavoidable and thus, children should learn to embrace it and be exposed to all the wondrous possibilities that social media permits. Yes, there are negative impacts that social media can have on individuals but if children are taught from a young age about how to be safe and responsible in the online world then the possibilities for their creativity and learning will become endless. The word balance was repeatedly stated during our class discussion because like anything, it is when we become too reliant on social media and forget about other aspects of life that its negative implications will shine through. Children are excited to learn and by permitting them to use social media while growing up, they will be better prepared to be successful in our technology-dependent world. Michael Sheehan’s article makes a comparison of not allowing children to have sugar to taking social media out of childhood. Children will grow up, and denying them access to social media while they are young will potentially cause them difficulty adapting to it as adults.
Where do I Stand?
Arguments presented in favor of both sides of the debate are incredibly valid and provided many perspectives to critically consider when deciphering my personal stance in this debate. The idea of what childhood is supposed to be is one that I continue to recycle through my head. I believe childhood nostalgia is something we all experience which makes individuals fantasize the childhood they personally experienced and see flaws in childhoods that do not look the same as their own. What I do know is that childhood is a time for children to be creative, discover new things, and explore the world around them, and social media allows exactly that to happen. Over-reliance on social media may cause children to develop false senses of belonging or fail to develop face to face communication skills but children can be taught a balance that can redirect them from the problematic uses of social media towards embracing the positive possibilities of social platforms. I believe social media has changed childhood but by accepting that change is an opportunity to do something amazing I find myself disagreeing that social media has ruined childhood. As a society, we must learn to focus on accepting the changes that are a result of social media and learn how to ensure that they lead to positive growth for our world.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” -Socrates