As scientific knowledge increases and technology grows, people have had to adjust to the transitions. We had to adjust when we began driving cars a lot more than when we were riding horses. We had to adjust when the television replaced the radio as the main entertainment/news device in the home. We had to adjust when the Internet replaced the once-a-day evening news cycle with a 24/7 news cycle. We had to adjust when personal electronic devices replaced time- and location-limited communication with instant-anywhere and asynchronous communication.
Many of these adjustments have been very positive, both in the intended benefits derived and even in the unintended consequences. However, while some of these adjustments have been very positive in the intended benefits derived, they have not necessarily always been positive in the unintended consequences. This is often the case with technological evolution.
One example of this is we as people sometimes struggle with managing social media. I see social media as a tremendously powerful, versatile tool. However, as with most things that are powerful and versatile, they can be managed wisely or unwisely. They can be used to help people or harm people. They can be used for good or evil. They can be used for self-improvement or self-destruction.
Granted, this is a massive topic, but I want to focus on just one main aspect of social media as it relates to children and young people. That aspect is personal development, especially as it applies to relationships. The time and attention that parents, guardians, schools, and mentors give to the personal development of children is incredibly important. This is true because we understand the potency of helping to build that future adult through that present child. William Wordsworth’s statement “the child is the father of the man” is no less intensely true today than it was two centuries ago. That is why with all social media’s excellent benefits, we simultaneously cannot afford to ignore its negative effects on our children.
Studies, reports, and anecdotes too numerous to name have overwhelmingly indicated these specific outcomes:
- Many young people are addicted to their personal devices due to the need to gain the emotional fix that a text or post provides.
- High social media activity among young people correlates with low self-esteem and depression. The constant comparison games it invokes always lead to the participant being the loser.
- Young people are so involved in their personal devices that they are lacking sufficient direct human interaction to develop their conversation and relationship skills.
- Young people would rather interact on social media than in person.
- Young people would rather text than talk. (It used to be that you might call someone on the phone to see about an in-person visit; now you text someone to see about a phone call.)
- Many young people routinely engage in family mealtimes in which every family member is only participating in their individual personal devices.
- Many young people have lost even the most basic spelling and grammar skills germane to more formal spoken and written communication.
We have been observing these outcomes since the advent of smartphones and social media. In some cases, we have responded intelligently and thoughtfully to help our children learn how to control social media rather than accepting the default position of letting social media control them (and us!).
The solution as I see it is not to run from the technology. That is impossible or at least highly unrealistic. Rather, we need to teach our children how to engage technology for all its excellent benefits while further teaching them how to engage people for all their superior benefits. This means setting the example rather than being the poor pathetic product of an increasingly dehumanized technological society.
The mission is vast and it is not one to be won overnight. Lord knows, every child is different (and difficult) in their own special way. However, the solution is not to give up but to remain watchful for every opportunity to model and mentor.
Only when children recognize someone else leading in a better way might they be inspired to pursue the same. That is a calling invested into you and me every day of our lives. And I conclude it is a calling always worth pursuing because the payoff is profound.