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Social Media Ruining Childhood? Maybe. Maybe Not.

Wow! What incredible presentations for this evening’s debate. My first initial thought on this debate question was that no, social media is not ruining childhood. Watching the videos only furthered my beliefs.

Social media is ruining childhood just like the television, cellphones and the print press did for previous generations. We are often fearful of change and believe that if youth don’t have the same experiences that we did or our parents did, they are missing out. If the skill of swimming was discovered only twenty years ago, we would still be deciding what size pool is safest for kids and how slowly you should walk on the pool deck so you don’t slip. The rapid pace of change that we are experiencing as a society with the evolution of social media is one of the main factors as to why parameters around social media use have been such a challenge to establish for both children and adults. In addition, some parents need to stop romanticizing their childhoods and spend less time booking their children’s schedules and more time engaging in unstructured play.

Jennifer’s analogy about children learning how to swim really hit home with me. Many children start learning how to swim from a young age as little as just one year old, and it can take many years before they go swimming alone, unsupervised or without any guidance. This is a perfect comparison with using technology and social media. If we as teachers and parents want our children to be strong and independent tech and social media users, we have to guide them through the learning process of how to navigate the online waters in a safe way so that in the future, they will be able to build their independence. Hence, teaching all aspects of digital citizenship that is age-appropriate. There are many dangers involved with learning how to swim as a child, and that is why there is supervision and boundaries set to keep children safe and enjoy the learning experience. Just like parents, schools and social media companies have a responsibility to engage children with social media with boundaries, limits and laws to protect them.

When I was growing up I was handed social media without any parental guidance or true understanding of the risks. To no fault of my parents, but I was learning much faster than they were. I was fortunate enough to have previously developed critical thinking and decision-making skills outside of social media. I was able to identify if something felt off or potentially dangerous. However, not all children are in this position.

I also really gravitated to the disagree side because they mentioned how previous childhoods looked much different than today, and that is okay. Every childhood from generation to generation is going to have differences or else we wouldn’t be evolving as a society. Today’s children now live in three worlds: the real world, the imaginary world, and now, more increasingly, the virtual/mobile screen world. Many children seek out online friendships and relationships because they aren’t able to find those connections in their schools and communities. Many students feel isolated in school or with their families because they aren’t given the opportunities to connect with others to whom they relate with. Those that are marginalized often in smaller communities can feel like they don’t belong and struggle to feel accepted. The online community can sometimes be the only place where they can seek refuge and feel welcomed and empowered. They can explore different communities in a safe space that might not even exist for them IRL.

Social media is here to stay and it has already made a gigantic impact on all ages. Moving forward, teaching age-appropriate digital citizenship is essential for our children to be able to navigate social media and the online world so they can be prepared for independent use. We don’t throw a sixteen-year-old in a car for the first time when they are of age to take their driver’s exam. We prepare them for a couple of years beforehand with guidance and practice so that they can take off the training wheels and take their test with confidence. Having kids use safe and parent or teacher-guided platforms that are closely monitored and highly secure allow children to practice the skills of social media before they venture out into the world of Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok by themselves.

In university, I took a handful of outdoor education classes at the U of R. I was fascinated by our required reading “Last Child in The Woods – Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. As students, this book was almost gospel for us. Or, that’s at least the way our instructor made it feel haha. If you ever had Nick Forsberg or any of the other wonderful outdoor education seminar leaders then you know what I am talking about! Nature-Deficit Disorder is a non-medical term coined by journalist Richard Louv to describe the growing disconnect he observed between people and nature. He indicates that people, especially children, are spending increasingly less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of physical, mental health and behavioural problems. However, we can not solely blame technology and social media for this. When you compare Canada or the United States to northern European countries such as Denmark or Sweden, the society’s culture around their way of life and what they value is much different than here. Denmark and Sweden have full access to social media, but their approach to how they balance it with family time and being outdoors is vastly different.

I still have my copy sitting on my bookshelf!

The dilemma that I often experience as a teacher is balancing the responsibility of teaching and modelling digital citizenship with parents. Not all families have the same knowledge base on social media use and children are coming to school on both ends of the spectrum. Some students are not allowed to use social media at all because parents are afraid of the negative effects of social media, and others use it freely without any guidance or parameters and directly experience the negative side effects of social media. I hope that these conversations will evolve into integrating a digital citizenship curriculum into Saskatchewan schools. As teachers, we are enhancing learning in the classroom with technology and social media and we know students are coming with various skills. I also hope that this can be better communicated with parents so that certain standards can be established amongst communities for the betterment and safety of our children’s digital futures.

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One thought on “Social Media Ruining Childhood? Maybe. Maybe Not.

  1. Great post Katherine! Lots of great points. I didn’t take any Outdoor Ed classes but the Text looks like an interesting read. As a parent I am always trying to find the balance between screens, sports and outside time. It just never feels like there is enough time! I also agree a digital citizenship curriculum would be beneficial for students & staff! Like you said technology including cellphones and social media isn’t going anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

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