This seems to be a recurring theme from generation to generation. Many people look back on their childhood fondly and use this nostalgic lens of what they thought of as normal to scrutinize what is going on with “kids these days.” As my classmate Andres stated this week:
“Although this question is tackling a modern-day issue, we’ve seen many versions of this argument come up in history. Whether it was Elvis being blamed for corrupting the youth of the 50’s with his dance moves, to people pointing the finger at violent videogames and Marilyn Manson for causing the Columbine shootings, we’re always seeking someone or something to blame [for] our kids’ actions.”
Often these concerns have to do with the media that children and young adults are consuming and the impact that it may have on them. Of course, I look back at my childhood with nostalgia, remembering the toys I played with, the shows I watched and the games I played. However, when I look at some of these things as a critical adult, I would hesitate to suggest that they are great material for a kid. I loved watching Looney Toons, the Ninja Turtles and the Adventures of Tintin and I took out every Asterix comic from the library on multiple occasions. These were all overtly violent, racist, sexist and full of offensive stereotypes — things that I was oblivious to as a child.
I’m not sure, however, that any of these shows that I watched, or books I read were given all that much attention. In fact, I think that my mom tried to prevent me from viewing some of the shows that she thought were problematic — The Simpsons (“too offensive! he might get ideas!”) or Beetlejuice (“well, that’s just gross”). I remember concern from my parents about the potential negative impacts of seeing these shows or playing violent video games, etc. Regardless, my point here is that some parents had concerns about the media that their children were consuming then, just as they do now. However, kids, myself included were still exposed to them and turned out ok.
The concern we discussed this week was social media and whether it is ruining childhood and making kids grow up too fast by exposing them to vulgar, graphic and pornographic content, lifting the floodgates for offensive ideas and language providing a platform for bullying and manipulation.
The group that argued the agree side of the debate — suggesting that technology is ruining childhood — made a point about the negative impacts of social media on mental health of children and youth, looking at the article “Social Media Affects Child Mental Health Through Increased Stress, Sleep Deprivation, Cyberbullying, Experts Say.” This got me wondering about the impacts that social media has on the prevalence of self-harm among young people today and led me to look at article such as “Social Media is Redefining ‘Depression’.” It suggests that “exhibitionism of self-harm, suicide, depression, or self-loathing under the pretext that it is beautiful, romantic, or deep is hardly unusual,” and in it’s discussion of online communities based around these ideas suggests that “for a fragile mind, these communities seem to provide the perfect solution: support, understanding, acceptance. To be accepted by this community, they have to advertise their suffering.” This negative side to social media really worries me. It definitely is an example of some of the darker sides of the internet.
I also took a look at another resource mentioned in the group chat last week, CBC’s Sext Up Kids, a documentary that discusses the sexualization of teens and young girls in mainstream media and the impacts of readily available pornography on youth. This too, got me worrying about the impacts of social media and technology on young people.
However, despite some of these strong arguments about the negative impacts of social media on our youth, I am not convinced that it is destroying childhood.
Are these all realities of the internet and social media? Yes. Do kids deal with some things that we did not when we were children? Yes. But is it ruining childhood? I don’t think that it is. Students have resilience — they are born into a digital world now. They are exposed it and they learn to deal with it. This is their reality and they are much more comfortable with it and able to navigate it than many adults assume or give them credit for. That being said, the teaching of digital literacy and digital citizenship for our students is of utmost importance for helping them navigate this digital world safely — even though there is a lot that they could probably teach us about it.
Is there a place for breaks from technology and social media? Would there be benefit to kids spending more time offline, face to face and outside? Maybe — there is plenty of research and writing to indicate this(check out, the Last Child in the Woods and the idea of Nature Deficit Disorder). Maybe we just need to make sure that there is a balance.