When we initially began this debate, I was leaning more towards the agree side. Looking back, I fondly remember (perhaps with rose tinted glasses) a childhood filled with playing outside, camping, and spending hours on our bikes until the street lights came on. I also remember certain technologies being introduced throughout my youth (Nintendo, Game Cub, Wii etc.) and the increasing amount of time I spent on the computer as I got older (did anyone else have a massive Sims addiction???). I essentially grew up alongside social media with things appearing as I aged. I remember the fall of Myspace, the early years of MSN messenger, and the good ole’ Tumblr days.
The hardest part for me with this topic is the idea of what age is childhood? When I hear the word I often think of younger children, even though a child is legally anyone under 18. Looking back on my youth, I would say my childhood (10 and under especially) was very far removed from social media, which didn’t really become a big thing until I was in high school. Overall, I wonder if we can even begin to compare our childhood to the present day, or someone growing up in the 60s etc. as things evolve so much over time?
Let’s dive in! The agree team (Fasiha, Dami, and Gunpreesh) presented a few arguments on why they believe that social media is ruining childhood today. The agree team also highlighted the fact that in their case they are referring primarily to childhood as children up to the age of 12.
Play is essential to childhood development
One argument that the agree side presented that I appreciated a lot is the idea that play is essential to childhood development, especially in early childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” It is so important in fact that “it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.” We can all make the connection between technology usage and a lack of creative play time. Often times, children are given devices to amuse them instead of encouraging them to use their imaginations or play outside. This is obviously not true in all cases, and it does come down a lot to what each parent allows. The AAP confirms this by stating that the decrease in free play “by children being passively entertained through television or computer/video games” is one of the factors that has changed childhood and that “there is ample evidence that this passive entertainment is not protective and, in fact, has some harmful effects.” Although our main topic is social media, this technology use (tv and videos games) at a young age is likely a stepping stone to future use of tech for more things (like social media).
Social media can be a dangerous and negative space, especially for children
We all know that social media comes with a lot of risks, especially for children who are too young or don’t understand fully what is going on online. For example, Dr. Brenna Hicks explains in her video that she works with children who are self diagnosing or going down paths of dangerous habits and that this is all stemming from their exposure to social media and the messages they are getting that they don’t necessarily understand. Cleveland Health Clinic also points out many others dangers relating to social media usage such as cyberbullying, increased anxiety, dangerous viral trends, lack of self esteem, increased irritability, and other problematic digital behaviors. Many of us see these effects daily since we work with children, are parents, or know people who fall in one of these categories. Lastly, let’s not forget the real threat of cyber predators and child exploitation.
These were the two main arguments that I feel best support the idea that childhood is being ruined by social media. The agree team also covered the ideas that critical thinking skills are being impacted by social media use, as well as the issues that younger people have been having in regards to making connections wiht others.
The disagree team (Jennifer, Shivali, and Mike) did a great job of coming up with ways that social media is actually benefiting childhood (kids aged 0-18 according to the disagree team) today. Some ideas that they presented were:
Social media can be used to make connections and help change the world
The article “18 Teens Using Social Media for Good Deeds“ shared by the disagree group provides so many examples as to how children (primarily pre-teens and teens) can use social media to connect with others, have a voice, feel accepted, and to better our society. Some great examples include : creating apps for personal safety and accessibility, hosting podcasts for other teens to know they are not alone and that there are other people having the same experiences, helping with fundraising and not for profit organizations, and advocating for inclusion. Additionally, The COVID-19 pandemic showed a lot of people how important technology and social media can be for connecting with others. It was thanks to technology and social media that many people, myself included, were able to connect with friends and family, as well as feel less lonely during isolating times. If this is true for adults like us, it must also be true for children? Lastly, a (slightly dated) survey study by Common Sense Media reported that teens were more likely to say that social media has had a positive impact on their life rather than a negative one.
Some of these issues aren’t only online
Another point the disagree team made was that many of these issues we are seeing (supposedly from social media) are actually not new and were around before it was even a thing. For example: bullying. I am sure that growing up most of us came across a bully or a kid who went out of their way to be mean to your or your friends. It seems to be something that is not new. Nowadays, the internet is just another way for kids to be mean. Many people and studies will also say that there has been a rise in mental health issues and that it is directly related to social media usage. However, sometimes I wonder if this is for sure the case or if there are other factors. Are we just more aware today of these issues and working towards better, faster diagnoses and getting people the help they need? Or are children less resilient due to different parenting styles and lower expectations/accountability?
Originally, I was leaning more towards the agree side of this topic, but after the debate I am still not certain where I stand. I find the topic itself to be very vague as there is a lot to consider when talking about “childhood.” At what age does childhood start and end? Will the impact of social media be the same when we are talking about a 4 year old vs a 16 year old? Can we even compare a childhood during one decade to a childhood during another where things were completely different?
Personally, I think that there are both positive and negative effects on children today from social media. I wouldn’t say that social media is “ruining” everyone’s childhood. But, I would by lying if I said that I am not worried about the long term impacts we might see coming from social media (and screen time/technology use in general) in the future. I also know that social media can be a scary place and that it really is up to adults to make sure that children are properly educated on how to use these platforms and tech appropriately and safely. In my opinion, too many parents now a days do not monitor their children’s social media usage. It is these children that I fear for the most, not for the “loss of their childhood” but for their general safety, mental health, and understanding of the world.