Letting Your Kids Take Risks In the Real World, Not the Digital One

It’s easy to forget how young social media is. Facebook, Twitter and the I-Phone were all launched around 2006 and 2007 [1], and have since connected people in ways never seen before, Naturally the young have embraced it. While the very young may not have entered the social media world, it will likely only be a matter of time. They are already more well versed on I-phones and I-pad than us grown-ups.

What is most noticeable about social media is how everyone presents such a perfect image of themselves. So reviewing anyone’s facebook, twitter, instagram and snapchat posts one would imagine that one’s friends are either constantly on the beach, at amazing parties or great restaurants [2]. Now, we know this is not true, but it still deflates one in some way, especially if one is having a bad day.  If instead of communicating through the filter of social media, by making a phone call, or actually meeting one would likely get a more real and honest exchange with friend. One would no doubt feel better afterwards.

Despite these concerns, parents are so scared by the news we see or read, that they stop their children from entering the world outside of home or school unsupervised. After all, the outside world looks so dangerous. It is only natural for children then to enter the digital world of social media, where they finally have a space unsupervised by their parents [3]. But the digital world provides a heavily distorted view of reality. Friends lives appear perfect, unrealistic physical forms dominate and discourse tends to the extreme.

Indeed the biggest distortionary effects  of the digital world is that only the loudest and angriest voices get noticed the most. The combination of too much opinions to filter through and the ability to hide behind alternative identities naturraly pushes things in this direction. Social media, then, has given a platform for extremist anti-other (replace “other” with religious group, nationality, race, class etc) groups. We’ve seen this in the rise of various non-mainstream parties across Europe, the wide reach of militant groups in the Middle East and racial and gender tensions in the US [4].

The irony is that the largest cause of death for school-age children in a country like the UK is suicide. And it only gets worse in adult life [5]. So our fear of harm in the real world is over-done, and we need to worry much more about the mental dangers of the digital world. This subject is something I’ve only recently started to grapple with. But I now think children should have much more leeway in the real world – we should let our daughters walk to school, let our children use electric drills when we do DIY and we try to educate our children about the dark side of the digital world. Let’s hope it works!

Bilal

[1] Twitter was launched in 2006, Facebook was opened to the public in 2006 and the first I-Phone was released in 2007.

[2] Interestingly, there was been a reaction against the perfect image presented in sites such as Facebook with the launch of apps like “Whisper”, where users input their true feelings anonymously.

[3] “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” by Danah Boyd

[4] In May 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured thirteen others before committing suicide in California. In a video he posted before the attack, he stated “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it…” (CNN).  This led to a whole debate around misogyny.

[5] For children between the age of 5 and 19 and looking only at external causes (ie not disease), 30% of deaths are suicide, this compares to 10% for pedestrian or cyclist accidents. For adults between 20 and 64, the largest external cause of death is also suicide, but it takes up an even larger share at 45%. That rate goes up to 65% if one also includes accidental drug and alcohol overdoes. (Source: Mortality Statistics, 2013, England and Wales. ONS).

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