Social Media & Childhood: Searching For Balance

This week’s EDTC 400 class was one that I had been waiting for all semester, as it was finally my turn to take on the role of debater in the class’s 6th EdTech Debate! In this debate, I went head-to-head against my fellow classmate and friend, Kylie Lorenz! The topic of the debate this week was “is social media ruining childhood”. I stood to represent the “agree” side of this debate, arguing that social media is indeed ruining childhood, with Kylie taking on the “disagree” side. Not only was this debate a lively one, but it also brought forth some very thought-provoking points and raised some great questions that caused me to rethink the way that I look at the role of social media in the lives of children. I knew that this was going to be a very divisive topic and I was honestly surprised to see that I had just over half of the classes support before entering the debate, as shown in the pre-vote results below! It’s a very bold statement to make in saying that social media is ruining childhood and therefore I knew that many of my classmates would really need to put some thought into it before they casted their votes!

Pre-vote Results

Since the results were nearly split down the middle, I knew it was going to be an interesting and close debate! In my own personal research, I came across so many pros and cons for each side and therefore I was prepared for Kylie to make some great arguments! I will now outline my arguments, as well as the arguments provided by Kylie to provide an overview of the debate as a whole!

My Main Arguments (The “Agree” SIde)

Unlike many of the other debates that have taken place in EDTC 400 so far, I was able to start this debate off strongly supporting one side. Personally, I am not a huge fan of social media and never really have been. While I do recognize the benefits of having social media, many of which I will share from Kylie’s debate, I have always seen the negatives as outweighing the positives, especially with regards to the use of social media by children. As I stated in my debate, children are beginning to engage in social media at a younger age than ever before. While most social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, require users to be at least 13 years of age before signing up, one of the articles I shared with the class titled “Is New Technology and Social Media Ruining Our Children’s Lives?”, notes that over 75% of social media users ignore these age requirements. This is easy for children to do, as most of these website use a “honesty self-report” policy in which children can easily lie about their age. With all this being considered, I structured my debate around 4 key points as outlined in my debate video:

I will now take this opportunity to further explain and summarize the points discussed in my debate video, along with provide additional findings from my research on the topic!

1) Social Media Is Damaging to Children’s Mental Health: Throughout my research, I came across several articles, studies, and reports that address how social media is negatively affecting children’s mental health. These studies connected social media use to an increase in the rates of depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, hyperactivity, and several others mental health concerns as discussed in this article. While the impact that social media has on youth varies from individual to individual and depends on a variety of factors, research conducted in recent years has placed emphasis on a few key areas of concern when it comes to social media use in teens, including:

    • FOMO – FOMO, which stands for “Fear of Missing Out”, is a feeling of anxiety that is often felt by individuals (both children and adults) when they are exposed to online content that makes them feel as if they are missing out on something important that is going on in the lives of others. As explored in this article, FOMO is not something new that is seen within society, but it has become increasingly common in the lives of children since the rise of social media. Through social media, children have the ability to know what others are doing at all times, which leads to several mental health concerns, such as obsessive behaviour, lack of sleep, and others as mentioned above.
    • Facebook Depression – As defined in this research journal, 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. While the name emphasizes Facebook as being a major source of depression, all social media platforms have the potential to contribute to these symptoms, often leading to social isolation. With children beginning to spend more time on social media and engaging with it at a younger age, they are experiencing a greater exposure to these feelings of depression that often are difficult to detect early on.
  • A Source for Social Comparison – Children and teens are constantly comparing themselves to others, seeing how they stack up in all areas of life. Through social media, children are provided with yet another platform for social comparison. In the article “The Dangers of Social Media That No One Likes to Admit”, Yousra Zaki identifies Instagram and Snapchat as being the most damaging platforms when it comes to social comparison, as they are very image-based. With these image-based platforms, it’s easy for children to compare their looks to others, when in reality the majority of the images shared online are heavily edited or filtered, leading to unrealistic expectations and poor self-image. Regardless of this knowledge, these social media sites continue to promote a “compare and despair” attitude, in which children compare themselves to others and focus on the ways in which they feel inferior.

In addition to being damaging to children’s mental health, social media use also has negative impacts on children’s physical health. The time children spend on social media is often at the expense of the time that could be used to enhance their physical health. As outlined by the Canadian Sedentary Guidelines, children ages 5-17 should spend no more than 2 hours of their day engaged in recreational screen time. Physical activity is an important component to children’s physical and mental health and with children spending increasingly more of their time on social media, they are often missing out on many positive childhood experiences, such as learning how to ride a bike, playing community sports, or simply taking their pet for a walk.

2) Social Media is Addictive & Making Children LESS Social: There is no denying that social media has become increasingly dominant in children’s lives, but while many view social media as simply being a part of their lives, social media addiction has become more common in children over the past ten years. The addictive properties of social media that are often overlooked cause children to obsess over it and make it their main priority. Many children have began to spend so much time on social media that it actually takes away from other childhood activities. Recent 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! Out of this portion of their online activity time, much of it is spend scrolling through social media. Compare these statistics to the information shared above by the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and it’s clear to see that children are spending over 3x the recommended amount of time online. In addition to social media addiction being a major concern for today’s youth, research has also found that while social media may have been created with the intent of increasing socialization, it does the exact opposite. As outlined in this article published by PSYCOM, many valuable life and social interaction skills, including empathy, communication and adaptability, require practice. More and more children are beginning to communicate with others by sending instant messages and pictures, liking posts, and tagging them in online content rather than speaking with them face-to-face. While this does allow for them to connect, it does not teach these children the essential life skills that will contribute to their well-being in life. If the way that children communicate with others continues to follow in this pattern, these children will grow into what Melissa Chalos refers to in her article as “socially-disabled” individuals, never having developed the social skills necessary for engaging in meaningful interactions with the world around them.

3) Social Media Use Contributes to Digital Footprint & Privacy Concerns in Children: One of the biggest dangers associated with the increased use of social media by young children is that they have not yet developed the knowledge and understanding of the dangers that exist online, or as to how to appropriately conduct their online presence. Without having this knowledge, children are more likely to share and post inappropriate content and information about themselves for others to see, therefore leading to privacy concerns. Many social media sites ask for users to share information about themselves, including their birthday, where they live and go to school, their photos, and so on. While this may seem harmless, Yousra Zaki writes about how the sharing of this information can easily fall into the wrong hands and this is dangerous for children, especially when they are not yet aware of how to look out for those who may be targeting them online.  Additionally, many children are only starting to learn about the power of their digital footprint and how everything that is posted online can last for ever, regardless of whether or not they delete it. Further, as this article states, even if children are not posting pictures and information about themselves online, it is very likely that their friends are. All information shared about a child online, whether it be by them, their friends, family, teachers, or others, contributes to their digital identities and can affect them down the road. Children need to develop the knowledge and maturity necessary to responsibly and positively contribute to their digital identities and when children as young as 6 years old have their own social media accounts, it is unrealistic to expect them to have gained this understanding and be able to apply it to their online social media activity.

4) Social Media Facilitates & Fuels Cyberbullying: The final point that I discussed in my debate video was with regards to how social media facilitates and leads to an increase in cyberbullying.  Cyberbullying is not uncommon and it can happen to anyone, whether they do or do not have social media themselves. In my video, I discussed some statistics shared by Teen Safe, in which nearly 35% of children have admitted to being victims of cyberbullying and over 85% of children see cyberbullying happen on a regular basis. Cyberbullying provides a platform for children to bully others, in which children can say what they want when they want by hiding behind their devices. Often times, cyberbullying is done anonymously, which not only makes it permanent and harder to track, but also gives the children who cyberbully a sense of security in knowing that they likely will not get caught. With this element of deception that social media provides in mind, it is easy to see how more often than not, the children who bully others online do not engage in the same behaviours offline. As shared in the article “Cyberbullying: Social Media and Teen Depression”, extensive social media use negatively impacts the way that children think and feel about others. Due to social media providing so much distance between the person who is bullying and the person on the receiving end, many children experience a decrease in empathy that can be carried over into other aspects of their lives. Circling back to my first point, cyberbullying also leads to many negative mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety. In extreme cases, cyberbullying can even lead to children taking their own lives. A well known example of cyberbullying leading to suicide involves a young girl named Amanda Todd, who posted a video online about her cyberbullying experience before taking her own life. Unfortunately, the story of Amanda Todd is not a rare one. Puresight provides insight into several true stories of cyberbullying that have lead to young individuals taking their own lives. With this rise of social media, cyberbullying and suicide rates have increased rapidly, which is yet another reason as to how social media is having a negative impact on children.

Kylie’s Main Arguments (The “DIsAgree” SIde)

After having conducted my research and constructing a debate around the belief that social media is ruining childhood, I was interested to hear what Kylie had to say with her debate from the opposing perspective! Kylie did a great job with her debate, as she brought up several strong points that supported her stance on the topic! I found myself thinking that she was sharing some very logical arguments that I had not thought of myself during my research! Here is Kylie’s debate video, followed by a summary of the main points discussed in her side of the debate:

1) Social Media Opens Doors For Children: Kylie’s first point that she used to support her side of the debate was that social media provides countless opportunities for children to learn, explore, and be exposed to new experiences! She provided some great examples, such as the ability for children to explore things that they are passionate about and possibly even find a career path that they are interested in! As discussed in one of the articles shared by Kylie titled “5 Reasons Why Social Media Might Actually Be Good For Your Child” by Michael Sheehan, new “things” are being shared on social media all the time, which although can be dangerous, also provides an area for discovery. With the simply click of a button, children can access videos, posts, resources, and tools through social media that can allow for them to learn in ways that they otherwise would not be able to. This reminded me of my mentees who are currently in EDTC 300 and how they are using social media to learn new hobbies/skills. For my learning project, I learnt how to decorate cakes through watching videos on YouTube and following bakers on Instagram and Facebook. I was able to learn so much about something that I was passionate about without having to even leave my house or spend a single penny, which truly is amazing! With this in mind, Kylie also mentioned how taking away these opportunities for children to follow their passions and explore new things through social media would be depriving them of a powerful learning opportunity. In addition to these new possibilities, Sheehan identifies how social media also opens up doors for children to form, maintain, and grow relationships with others. Not only does social media allow for children to stay connected, but it also provides opportunities for collaboration, interaction, and socialization, all of which are important components to childhood!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

2) Social Media Gives Children A Platform for Taking a Stand: Another benefit of social media use for children that Kylie discussed in her debate was that it provides them with a platform to take a stand, stay informed, and make their voices heard. In the article “5 Reasons You Don’t Need to Worry About Kids and Social Media”, Caroline Knorr explains how there are many positive that can come from children connecting, sharing, and learning online. Knorr shares how large social networks expose children to the issues that are being faced around the world and provides children with a voice to address these issues that they never had before. Through social media, young children can now have a larger impact and are beginning to make their mark on the world earlier than every before. This resource provides some amazing ways in which young children can have an impact through social media, whether it be supporting anti-bullying campaigns, raising money for charities, or simply standing up for their beliefs! “Youth and Social Media: Power to Empower?” addresses some specific social media campaigns that successfully engaged children, one of which being the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I recall participating in this challenge as a young teen, in which I recorded myself having ice water dumped on me and then uploaded the video along with my nominations for others to do the challenge and donate to the ALS foundation! This campaign utilized social media to get people of all ages involved in making a difference in the world, which is one way in which social media can be seen as benefiting children!

3) Social Media Promotes Mental Health Initiatives: While cyberbullying is a major concern when it comes to social media use and children, it is also important to recognize that social media also provides support and resources for those who are experiencing bullying. This topic is explored by Angela Barnes and Christine Laird in their article “The Effects of Social Media on Children”. In this article, Barnes and Laird mention how social media allows for children to seek help that they otherwise would not have access to without social media. This can be done anonymously and therefore children are able to receive the support they need without having to draw unwanted attention to themselves. Additionally, not all children come from homes that provide the emotional support they need, therefore turning to social media is often their most easily accessible option! To illustrate the power of social media platforms in promoting mental health initiatives, Kylie provided the example of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign that takes place each year in which Bell donates money to mental health initiatives every time someone tweets, texts, or posts using their hashtag. Without social media, campaigns like this could not have as large of a reach and children likely would not be able to contribute in the ways that they can today.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

4) Social Media is Unavoidable: Kylie‘s final debate point is one that I agree with 100%, and that was that social media is unavoidable. Social media is not “new” and it definitely is not a fad that will be going away any time soon. With that being said, Kylie made the argument that we might as well embrace social media use by youth rather than trying to fight it. This is a valid point to make, as I did mention in by debate how children are beginning to use social media at a younger age than ever before and are spending more time using social media than children did in the past. With this in mind, it is important to consider the role of education in children’s social media use. Kylie stated that rather than trying to avoid social media use with children, we should focus on teaching them how to use it appropriately. As outlined in “Teaching Kids to Be Smart About Social Media”, there are many things that parents and teachers can do to support children in using social media in responsible ways. One of the most important considerations to take is with regards to being open with children and letting them know that their online activity matters. By simply laying the foundation for safe social media activity, such as teaching children how to think before they post and the importance of privacy, children can then use these platforms in the most positive and effective ways possible.

Conclusion

This truly was a great debate to be a part of, as so many amazing points were brought up, leading me to question not only my stance, but also the question being debated. Before I dive into my final thoughts on the topic, I will share the results of the post-debate vote:

As you can see from the results, this was a debate that I did not win! However, I feel like I put up a good fight and considering how I was arguing in support of such a bold statement, I think it’s fair to assume that I had my work cut out for me! Kylie did a wonderful job with laying out her side of the debate and made some great arguments, as I have outlined above! I think that the class discussions were also very thorough, as I found that new questions were being raised every time the microphone was taken over by someone! This really made for an exciting and elaborate debate! Overall, the final results of the class vote were still quite close, which goes to show that this topic is a tricky one and from what I heard from my classmates, they really would have liked to have an “in the middle” voting option!

So Where Do I Stand?

Now that the debate that I have been waiting for all semester has come to an end, I find myself looking back and reflecting upon how I felt walking into the debate and how I feel now. Initially, I completely agreed with my side of the debate so I walked in thinking that my mind was pretty set. However, I cannot deny that Kylie and the class opened my eyes to some important considerations and clarifications that need to be made before making the claim that social media is ruining childhood. Some of these major areas include:

What is “Childhood”  & How is it Changing?
One consideration that was brought up was with regards to how we often romanticize the past, thinking that the childhood we experienced was so much better than the childhood that children are currently experiencing today. This is something that I had not considered before, but upon further reflection I see it as being very true! I cannot tell you how many times my mother has said to me “my childhood was so much tougher than yours” or “you guys aren’t experiencing childhood the way we used to…what a shame”. While these statements may be true, it is important to recognize that experiencing a childhood that differs greatly from the past is not necessarily a bad thing. Considering how the world is changing (and with it social media), maybe we need to accept the fact that childhood is changing as well. On the other hand, there is no denying that this generation of children are experiencing challenges that children of the past did not have to experience largely due to social media. For example, cyberbullying and suicide rates have increased immensely since the rise of social media, a topic I touched on in my debate. While bullying does occur both on and offline, cyberbullying is different than traditional bullying in the sense that it is easier to participate in and is harder to regulate. This is a form of bullying that children did not have to worry about in the past but have to worry about now, which can be seen as one way in which children face more struggles today than children did in past generations. In contrast, social media has allowed for children of this generation to stay more connected than children in previous generations, which could be viewed as one way in which children today have it easier than children in previous generations. There are so many pros and cons to be weighed and the scales always seem to be tipping back and forth!

Social Media Solves Problems, But It Also Causes Them:
As Kylie outlined beautifully in her debate, social media has the potential to provide children with support, power, and opportunities that they otherwise would not have access to. Additionally, Kylie discussed how social media can help aid in the solving of bigger issues, such as cyberbullying and providing mental health support. While I cannot deny that these are valid points, I could also argue that many of the problems that social media is helping to solve were partially caused by social media in the first place. For example, countless studies has linked social media use to depression and other mental health issues in youth, however social media also provides access to supports for dealing with mental health issues. The same goes for cyberbullying, where social media provides a place to obtain support when experiencing cyberbullying, but it also provides the platform for cyberbullying to occur in the first place. In this sense, social media can be seen as being a vicious cycle of problem causing and solving, which makes the topic so much harder to simply agree or disagree with!

Final Thoughts: a need for Education & Balance

At the end of the day, I do still maintain my belief that social media is having more negative impacts on childhood than positives. I simply cannot overlook how for every positive I come across when it comes to social media by children, I also find several negatives that outweigh these positives. I am a huge advocate for focusing on personal health and well-being and therefore to see all the negative ways that social media is impacting children’s mental and physical health makes it hard for me to jump on board with endorsing it. With this in mind, I feel it necessary to acknowledge that I am definitely not against social media use by children in general. I love how it has the power to connect people across the world, enhance learning and opportunities, and bring joy into the lives of those who use it. However, when considering how social media is currently being used by children and youth today, I do not feel like the majority of users are engaging with it in the most positive ways. Although I maintain this stance that the cons of social media in children’s lives outweigh the pros, I don’t think that it has to always be this way. In my opinion, children can engage in social media in a healthy and positive way if two key considerations are taken into account:

Education:
I feel that many of the negative social media impacts and experiences that children have can be attributed to a lack of experience and understanding, which is where we as educators can step in and help provide that education that children need to be conscious and responsible social media users. Kylie touched on this in one of her debate points and I think it’s a very important point to be made. Of course children are going to engage in social media regardless of whether they are educated on it or not, which makes providing these educational opportunities so important. This involves teachers being willing to learn about social media and how it is changing so that they can support their students as they begin to explore it themselves. A perfect way to educate children about social media is by incorporating it into the classroom so that they gain first hand experience with using it in a safe and supportive environment. While this does not guarantee children will never encounter negative consequences of social media use, it does provide them with a deeper understanding of how to use it appropriately and ways in which they can cope with the dangers and downfalls they may experience online. This article provides some great ways in which teachers can incorporate social media into their classroom!

Balance:
Throughout this entire debate, I found myself agreeing with points made from both sides. Through hearing what my classmates had to say, the word that kept popping up in my mind was balance. I talked a lot about the negative impacts that too much social media use can have on children in my debate, while Kylie discussed how completely denying children the opportunity to have access to social media can also prevent them from experiencing many of the amazing opportunities it provides. Considering both sides of this debate, I have come to realize that we should not be looking at social media use as an “all or nothing” concept. While an over reliance and addiction to social media is not healthy, I do not think that the answer to solving these problems is to wipe social media out of the lives of children all together. Instead, we should be focusing on finding that middle ground where social media is a part of children’s lives, but is not their entire lives.

In summary, do I think that social media needs to be banned for all children and we need to revert back to the childhood that was experienced by the previous generations? Of course not! But do I think that we need to re-evaluate the way in which children are using social media and when they begin to use it? Definitely! Regardless of how we view social media, it’s a part of children’s lives and not something we can avoid, therefore I think it may be worth shifting our attention towards focusing on HOW children use social media rather than only focusing on its current impact. Social media places so much potential in the palms of children’s hands to change and impact their lives, but the way they choose to/are taught to use it will ultimately determine whether that impact is positive or negative!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Thanks for reading! I had so much fun with this debate and I am definitely glad that I got to try something new with this debate format! Please feel free to leave your thoughts/questions in the comment section below! I would love to hear what you think!

Lauren

 

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3 thoughts on “Social Media & Childhood: Searching For Balance

  1. jaydenlang says:

    Hey Lauren,
    First off, I want to say you crushed this debate! This was such an engaging and very vocal debate that I’m sure would have gone longer if we had time. You brought up the thought of age limits and social media accounts, which is a concern. I have my 12-year-old cousin on SnapChat and she posts those cringe-worthy posts like “screenshot for a tbh” or “snap me and I’ll post your name on my story”, honestly I think she’s going to look back at that when she’s older and regret it. But that’s just my opinion, I was never one for that stuff. Youth are still developing when they create social media accounts are now more concerned about likes on an Instagram photo, which has sadly been a reason for some to develop depression if they do not get many likes on a photo or if one certain person never liked the photo. Like you mentioned, we may be a little against social media simply because we were not raised on it, it was barely a thing when we were young. I think this is a challenge we are going to experience as educators as the way we will teach certain units will not be the same way as we learnt it so we may fear this new way but we have to learn to master the old tale of “don’t knock it until you try it”.
    Until next time,
    Jayden

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lauren Sauser says:

      Thank you Jayden! I really appreciate the kind words! 🙂
      I have a 10 year old sister who just got snap chat and she is very limited with what she is allowed to send and who she can have on there. However, she has shown me some of what her friends post on their stories and I can’t help but cringe! Some of them are even posting selfies with swear words for the caption! This is definitely something that concerns me because I feel like these kids think they are safe because their picture “disappears” after a while. However, screenshotting is so common and although the images may disappear, that does not mean that they can’t come back! Additionally, I see a lot of younger kids on instagram where they post stories saying “like my post and i’ll tell you how much I like you” or “comment for a rating”. This is something that goes against everything want to teach my students! It’s so dangerous and a simple “rating” can lead to poor self-esteem, bullying, and a whole host of negative mental health concerns! It’s just scary to think that this is going on!
      On the bright side, I do think that social media does not have to only be seen as fostering these negative behaviours, as we as a class were able to reflect upon the pros to social media use! I think that if we as teachers are willing to educate our students and not dance around the topic, we really can turn these negatives into more positives!
      Thanks so much for sharing you ideas and story!
      Lauren

      Like

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