Whitefield Academy Blog
Smart Phones, Social Media, and Teens: A Solution
My family and I were in North Carolina recently at the beach. While I sat in my chair with eagle eyes on my four and six year olds who were “surfing,” I was distracted by a gaggle of six teenage girls walking past me. They were walking in the surf in three pairs. Each girl had her phone out and was taking a selfie. At one point, one pair stopped with the selfies and decided to take turns filming each other spinning, checked the video, spun again, checked the video, spun a third time, and then continued on with the walking and selfies.
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was 18. But I digress.
A Quiet Destruction
My husband recently sent me an article called “The Quiet Destruction of the American Teenager” from The Week by Matthew Walther. He points out that times are a-changing.
Few periods in American history have been as revolutionary as the last decade or so. Between 2009 and the present the use of smartphones has become ubiquitous among children. It is not uncommon for many young people to spend six or even nine hours a day in front of these screens, getting less sleep, spending less time engaged in other meaningful activities, engrossing themselves in a set of priorities and commitments that are utterly divorced from the real world in which they should be learning to live.
Consider those girls on the beach. Once the poses are perfected and the filter is just right, those pictures are posted on Instagram or Snapchat, and then the next hour is spent refreshing the page to see who has or hasn’t liked the picture.
Hell is not, strictly speaking, other people. But for a teenage girl, nine hours a day of other people evaluating your appearance and utterances as you attempt to negotiate their preferences and attitudes and jockey for some intangible sense of status is probably something very much like hell. Studies by Twenge and others have shown that depression is far more likely to be correlated with frequent social media use among girls than with boys, who in any case are more likely to use their devices to play video games.
Now, remembering the girls on the beach, what if your daughter was one of those girls but she didn’t have a phone. Imagine her wandering behind the group of selfie-taking socialites, kicking the sand and waiting for them to stop so that she would have someone to interact with. We can all easily see the dangers of social media (25% of girls now self-harm, depression in teens has sky-rocketed, suicide rates have increased, etc.), but the biggest argument in favor of smart phones and social media is that without them, it’s devastatingly ostracizing. It is essentially a banishment to a deserted island.
It Takes a Village
But what if they weren’t the only ones on the island? What if as parents, we seek to build such strong relationships with other parents that we can openly and kindly speak about the rules we have for our kids? We all recognize that we need each other to help raise our kids. I need Mrs. White to reprimand my daughter when she is rude on a play date. I need Mrs. Heath to watch my kids when I’m drowning in VBS preparations. I need Mrs. Theiss to be an extra set of eyes and ears at school. If we are already relying on each other so much, why shouldn’t we rely on each other to be supportive of or even like-minded with our rules for technology?
A Solution Proposal
I propose a meeting of the minds. Even as young as Kindergarten or First Grade, the parents of each grade need to come together and have a talk. We need to talk openly about our fears, concerns and hopes with technology. In an ideal world, all the parents could agree on rules for technology. Rules such as what age we give smart phones and tablets, what age social media is allowed, what type of parental controls we will use, etc. Of course the likelihood of getting many sets of parents to agree on something is small, but even just agreeing to support each other’s rules would be huge. If I have the high schoolers over to my house for a movie night and one parent requests that no phones be out, then I need to lovingly agree and support that rule! We need to know that we can trust each other.
Is all social media dangerous? No. Are smart phones evil? Of course not. Many adults use these things daily in positive and uplifting ways. But we have to recognize that most pre-teens and teens do not yet possess the ability to separate themselves from the self-deprecating dangers of a filtered virtual world. Let’s support each other in making good decisions for our children.