It’s easy to forget how young social media is: Facebook, Twitter and the iPhone were all launched around 2006 and 2007. Since then, it has connected people in ways never seen before. The young live through it, the very young are educated on devices that will lead them into it, and older people complain about it while voyeuristically using it.
What stands out about social media is how everyone presents such a perfect image. Reviewing anyone’s social media posts, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone not on the beach, at amazing parties or at great restaurants. This deflates us, even if we know it’s not true. And when we meet people in the flesh, it reminds us how good relationships can be. With the digital veil lifted, we feel supported in each other’s imperfections.
Ironically, despite these concerns, we, parents, are so scared by the news that we stop our children from doing anything in the real world unsupervised. After all, the real world looks so dangerous. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, if our children flee to the digital realm of social media. They finally have a space unsupervised by parents. The digital world they see is one where bodies and skin are perfect, instant fame and money are only a viral post away and to be liked by the many is to exist.
On top of that, only the loudest, angriest and extreme voices get noticed. The combination of too many opinions and the ability to hide behind alternative identities naturally pushes things in this direction. Social media, then, has given a platform for extreme tribal behaviour, whether on the right (e.g. ethno-nationalism) or on the left (e.g. labelling others as racist or sexist).
The irony is that the largest cause of death for school-age children in developed countries is suicide. And it only gets worse in adult life. 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 doesn’t mean forcing our kids off social media and into a heavily supervised real world – that’s a recipe for rebellion. Instead, we need to let our children take risks without adults hovering around. This means, we need to become comfortable with our children getting knocks and scratches, having arguments with friends and becoming street smart. I’m already getting nervous!
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