The Positives and Anxieties of Parenting in this Internet and Social Media Consumed Society
I feel fortunate to have grown up in a time frame where as kids we played outside all the time. I mean ALL the time. To the point when we were younger that you knew Manhunt was over when your mom yelled your name throughout the neighborhood to get inside. Or, if you were feeling particularly froggy and chose to ignore those calls to get that last round or two or five in, you were re-introduced to the wooden spoon. Or the belt. Or the throwing of random shoes. Let’s just say there’s no excuse for reflexes this bad after a childhood of regularly making it a point of pissing off my parents and subsequently needing to dodge flying objects.
Even with all that outdoor goodness, my age group grew up during the dot-com boom. I was about 11 when the internet craze started to hit, 13 when we had our first computer. And while there was AOL messenger and some chat groups (some seedier than others), it didn’t consume my or most of my friend’s lives. It was just a thing to do to kill time in between pick-up football or basketball games. Yet because we were introduced to computers in our teenage years, most of our generation are now tech savvy enough to know our way around a computer, which has helped to set us up for the future as things become more and more digitized.
As with all technology, time gives way to new advancements and improvements. The internet has been no different. As AOL, dial-up (lol) and Netscape (double lol) went by the wayside, along came the advent of social media platforms like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter. People, especially younger people, were now more connected yet more detached to more people than ever before. As a father of two, this has some benefits but also some potentially terrifying consequences.
Pro: The real world can sometimes be a shitty, cruel place. Being able to escape it with a crap ton of cat video's and whatever else online can be good for your mental if done in small doses.
Con: When not done in small doses, it can be real easy to get caught up in all things social media. For anyone. And more time spent behind a screen and less time spent with face to face contact can lead to a whole crap load of kids socially stunted. We all know that person. That one that can text back and forth all day, but can't even put a couple sentences together when you see them In person. Or they can't keep consistent eye contact because they're too busy constantly glancing down at their phones. That can not only affect friendships, but relationships, prospective job or promotion opportunities, etc. We're all different degrees of that mess today, now imagine that multiplied by the upcoming generations younger introduction to all things social media related.
Pro: Getting a head start on the latest electronic technology can help our little one's prepare for the future in the way the dot-com boom helped those born during my time frame. As was stated earlier, our society is becoming more and more computer-dependent. Having your mini-me typing 40 words a minute by 8 or 9 may not be such a bad thing when they'll probably need that skill for almost all aspects of life going forward.
Con: And for kids and young adults online that often that can be highly impressionable, that could mean living and dying by each Facebook or Instagram 'like' or comment. This has played a part in a spike in teen depression. An increase of over 11% of the national youth population by 2014, an almost 40% rise in the last 3 years alone; recorded by the federal SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). And that doesn't account the scores more that go unreported. Depression and impulsivity is a dangerous mix.
Pro: Which is why it is encouraging to see stats showing that teen use of most drugs has declined, or at the very least plateaued, over the last few years. Researchers studying that data attribute this trend from the NIH to teens spending more time online and less time experimenting with drugs.
Con: However, tragically, suicide and suicide attempts among youth are rising, as well. More than 13 youth a day (ages 15-24) now take their own lives, as per the CDC. A heart-breaking more than one 10-14 year old a day now will take their own life. A complete lack of privacy and higher possibilities of public shame or bullying through social media plays a (large?) part in this. What used to be a few of the neighborhood kids knowing that one ridiculously stupid or regrettable thing you did, is now captured and viral for the entire school to see within hours. Getting passed that becomes that much harder when everyone knows. Escaping this can be a hellish nightmare for some kids, one that is increasingly seeing suicide as the only way out.
Pro: To escape, some adolescents and teenagers can turn to online to serve as a bit of a safe haven. If you don’t fit in with the cliques in your school or neighborhood, being that age could be a lonely and frustrating time. Having access to like-minded kids from outside your town can help any possibly lost kids feel a sense of belonging and could very well be the thing that saves them from some incredibly terrifying alternatives.
So in summary, keep your kids in bubble wrap and only let them only experience the good parts of the internet, right?! Look, I don't know what I'm doing parenting. I'm just making it up as I go and hope each day I'm not permanently screwing them up for the future. What everyone does or how they raise their children is ultimately up to them. I just know that some of these stats are pretty damn sobering to me. They serve as a stark reminder for me to always try to be as aware as possible just as much about what they're doing outside the home as what they're doing online.