Before my niece could talk, she could clear notifications while looking through pictures on her mother’s phone. “Do you want to see a picture of yourself?” became a welcome distraction for when she wasn’t content. And a few months later, she was asking for Snapchat “faces,” able to click the button herself to watch her face transform into a dog or bunny. My sister has used the same methods to limit social media’s effects as every other mother of a young child today – the same things I will do – limited screen time, app restrictions and monitoring. But are such restrictions going to be enough to combat social media’s strong effects?
Have we stopped and considered the implications of raising another generation in an age where they learn the “Like” button is a form of affection and their social clout is reduced to a number of these “Likes?” Or how they will grow up, learn and make mistakes in an age where everything is documented? Or where popular apps are those meant to edit your features to attain the perfect body? Something has to give, as I know I wouldn’t want to grow up with five social media accounts, and I am surely scared to raise children with even more.
Pew Research tells us that 95 percent of U.S. teens have access to a smartphone – a number that still could increase in the future. The same research found that 45 percent of U.S. teens say they are online almost constantly. In an age where “social media never sleeps” has become a colloquial saying, adolescents are forming their identities amidst a constant, visual digital world where becoming your own person is increasingly difficult.
As a young female who has spent some of my most formative years in this social age, going through high school at a time where we learned to “share” everything across platforms like Facebook and Snapchat, I truly cannot fathom having social networking accessible from an even earlier time. Middle and high school are hard enough between forming your identity, school and extracurriculars, finding friends and navigating tricky social dynamics. Psychological research has found that by age 12, adolescents move from concrete to more deductive ways of thinking, able to search for answers, consider the future and draw conclusions. Yet, adolescents are not considered to begin moral maturity until they approach their 20’s, meaning they’re searching for their identities while unable to avoid impulse decisions or irrational judgements. And this is only heightened by platforms that enable you to quickly judge others and yourself, leave harmful comments, send irresponsible content or develop a tainted body image by influencers or people just like them, with the perfect body, lifestyle and clothes.
Research has also found a positive association between social media use and adolescents’ sense of social connectivity, with their offline habits considered to be the most affected. We know that social media connections don’t translate into real world relationships, but to self-conscious teens and tweens, these numbers can mean a lot. I believe that their anxiety has grown through constantly knowing what others are doing and the “FOMO” effect, or that they’re losing critical social skills, not having to reach out to friends to keep in touch when you can just send a Snapchat. Further, I think about the mistakes I have made, similar to others, but luckily right before the age of the ever popular “Finsta,” a running feed of exactly what a future employer doesn’t want to see – a feed that all too many still believe will always be private for close friends.
So, how do we fix this? Do we expect these platforms to take more control, incessantly monitor our children’s online presence or cut it all off out of fear? Responsible social networking needs to come to the forefront of our conversations as a society and as future parents. Technology companies like Apple are addressing the issue, releasing a new screen time and social networking limit you can set for yourself and your children in the new iOS 12 update. While this is great progress, looking forward we have to hold ourselves accountable to create continuous dialogue so that my niece, and children just like her, don’t grow up without learning to live outside of their phones and the content within it.