I grew up in the 90’s. I was obsessed with Ghostbusters, I collected “Pogs”, I had devil sticks and I watched “Are you Afraid of the Dark” on YTV every Saturday night. One of my favorite things was staying up late to watch all of my favorite music videos on Much Music and MTV. Oh, and who can forget, when I wanted to play with my friends, I knew that phoning their house at 9:00 pm would possibly result in getting yelled at by their parents for calling so late.
The struggle was real.
Yet, nowadays, I look at kids, and I have no idea what to think of the trends that they’re into.
What happened to skateboards? Why is everyone longboarding now
Dub step? Really? Have you HEARD of 90’s hip hop, people?!
PewDiePie? I mean really? You’d rather WATCH someone play a videogame on YOUTUBE than actually play the game yourself?
I just… don’t get it.
Maybe… just maybe…
No… it can’t be.
I think it finally happened guys… I’m officially OLD.
So where does this come into our EC&I 830 class? Well, that’s a great question. This week we had two great debates, one of which asked the question “is social media ruining childhood?”
Although this question is tackling a modern-day issue, we’ve seen many versions of this argument come up in history. Whether it was Elvis being blamed for corrupting the youth of the 50’s with his dance moves, to people pointing the finger at violent videogames and Marilyn Manson for causing the Columbine shootings, we’re always seeking someone or something to blame on our kids’ actions.
Nowadays, it’s social media that’s in the spot light. They say that it’s taking away our kids’ innocence. Kids are growing up faster, are being sexualized sooner, and are being exposed to extremely graphic content earlier than ever. Social media (and the internet) are ruining our kids’ childhoods.
Although I definitely agree that some aspects of social media are definitely contributing to children’s shift in behaviors, my classmate Amy made a couple of great points in her blog that are worth considering:
“To me, blaming social media for the arbitrary “moral decline” which is apparently occurring is reminiscent of ‘shooting the messenger’. It is the scape goat, used by those in power to place blame away from a real issue, which is social inequality that leads to the hyper-sexualization of our children and the objectifying of our young girls.”
My other classmate Shannon , takes a similar angle and examines the way companies are finding ways to market towards tweens.
“More concerning to me, however, is the increased sexuality placed on this age group. The pressure for girls of this age to look and act like teenagers is overwhelming.”
I never really considered the capitalist side of the argument, but if we’re trying to sell anything to kids nowadays, let’s be honest here, it’s become a hundred times easier than ever before. Social media feeds on sites such as Facebook and Instagram are now littered with personally-tailored ads. Not only are we being fed ads constantly, the ads are actually curated and geared towards your specific age, sex, demographic and personal interests. Companies have so many new and effective ways of reaching their audiences, that avoiding it is becoming harder and harder.
The same can be said about graphic content. Although parental locks can be enabled, these systems are not fool-proof, and content such as pornography can be incredibly easily accessed by kids. Social media feeds aren’t perfect either, and are often crammed with sexually-charged, vulgar or explicit content. If kids want to see it, they’re going to see it (even if they aren’t looking for it).
Amy makes another interesting point by stating how our knowledge is constantly evolving and how important it is that we adjust to these changes. She uses a great example that really stuck with me. Before people knew how bad smoking was, we were smoking indoors in restaurants, airplanes and even schools. Her argument is that once our knowledge shifted, and we became aware of how bad smoking was for everyone, these social norms changed dramatically. In Canada, you’re not going to see a smoking section in a restaurant anymore, and we’re more than likely not going to go back to our old ways now that we know the damage smoking causes.
Social media is one of these changes that we need to adjust to. We’re aware of how much it’s distracting us, we’re aware of the amount of online risks we’re being exposed to, how much time they are spending in front of screens, we know it can negatively affect our mental and physical health (here and here), and we’re aware of the social effects it’s having on our communication skills.
So what are we going to do about it?
Shannon mentions how it’s absolutely crucial that parents play an active role in what their kids are seeing and how they are using social media and the internet. If we don’t want our kids glued to the computer screens, we’re going to have to start modeling better behavior, and that obviously starts with parents and teachers.
Another part of the solution would be for older generations to learn how to use and apply these tools. If our kids are using social media constantly, shouldn’t we know how to use it too? Furthermore, with my following example, I think another big adjustment we need to make is actually addressing social media with our kids as early as possible.
On Friday, I asked several of my classes what they knew about social media. The answers weren’t surprising: they knew everything about it. Why? Because this is what it’s like growing up in 2016; everyone is connected and everyone is using social media, especially kids. What surprised me the most however was when I asked my grade 4/5 class to list off all the social media sites that they either knew about, or used. I’m officially out of the loop. My youngest group of students created a list of 20+ social media sites. They even started listing dating sites. I actually had to ask them what some of these sites were. I was completely dumbfounded.
What I did find out from my little experiment is that this specific group of kids has already dealt with a lot of the risks you’d come to expect from the internet. Many kids have received messages from older strangers; some kids have been asked to share their phone numbers, pictures or personal information with people they don’t know; most of them know what pornography is; and many have seen graphic or explicit content through social media.
Now, when I look back at my grade 4/5 years of schooling, neither of those years included much of any of those things I just mentioned.
Of course, I wasn’t using social media at that age either, and whatever internet I did have, definitely wasn’t capable of producing some of the things they are being exposed to now. This is very important information to consider. My childhood was extremely different, even though I have spent half my life on social media, these kids were born straight into it. What this tells me is that we do need to start addressing these issues at a much younger age. Yes, social media is definitely making our kids grow up quicker, but part of the issue is that we need to start looking at it for what it is, and not comparing it to what we had when we were younger. Times have changed, and with this change, we need to also change with it.
Ask any older generation and they will all tell you something different about their childhoods. I feel like I can’t even say anything about generation Z’s childhood, because quite frankly, I don’t really have any place in it. What I can do however is learn from them, talk to them and discover what growing up in 2016 is really like. Part of the reason I often find myself not “getting” kids, is because I’m slowly being left behind. If I didn’t proactively try to learn as much as possible from these kids, I’d have no idea what half the trends nowadays are about.
In closing, I really don’t think social media alone can be blamed for ruining our kids childhoods. First of all, we’re living in a time where social media is everywhere. This is how people communicate with each other now. It’s not like we’re going to go back to using land lines and getting yelled at by our friend’s parents for calling too late. We’ve got this technology in front of us and kids are using it more than ever now, it’s time to accept it and shift with it.
Maybe kids these days will never know what it was like growing up without internet, cellphones or social media, but let’s be honest, do they really have to? Isn’t this all just the natural progression of humanity and technology? Maybe instead of living in the past, we start learning about these things ourselves, start using them and understanding them. I mean, we might as well see what all the fuss is about right?
Thanks for reading everyone,