Maggie Dent the author shared an article last month by a Dr Meeker titled “Social Media and Teens: Time to Dial it Down.”
Now I need to state up front that unlike Dr Meeker I am not a paediatrician and unlike Maggie Dent I’m not an authority on children. Also unlike Dr Meeker and Ms Dent I have access to stock photos that don’t only feature white families, but I suspect that’s a side issue altogether.
The article made me cross. Not because I don’t acknowledge that there is a definite role that media – both old and new – plays in the development of self-esteem, the presence of anxiety and so on in teenagers. I might not be an expert, but I’m not an idiot.
I was a teenager. A lot more recently than Dr Meeker and Ms Dent I might add. It totally sucks to be a teenager sometimes. But it sucked to be a teenager in the 1980s just as much as it does now. Bullying isn’t new – it’s just developed to take advantage of the tools available. Low self-esteem isn’t new – it’s just that media that delivers it has changed. Friendship isn’t new – it’s just the way that we communicate with our friends has evolved. Parenting isn’t new – and neither has the immense resistance to the next generation doing things differently.
There is more than a little irony that of the hundreds of comments on Maggie’s post, and probably thousands more as the result of the 622 shares at the time I wrote this, the vast majority were the VERY outraged condemning social media as a communication tool. On social media.
Our children are existing in a unique time. They are growing up with technology so sophisticated we wouldn’t have believed it possible when we were kids. They are going into jobs that didn’t exist when we left school. The way they communicate is so much more nuanced than the way we did. They understand that there are many ways of getting a point across and not all of them involve the spoken word.
They are living in a world that allows them access to thoughts, ideas and concepts beyond the ones espoused in their homes, their schools or their local community. Which is, if you really think about it, such a wonderful thing.
Social media has been one of the most impactful change tools employed over the last ten years. It has amplified the voices of women. It has amplified the voices of our gay and queer communities. It has amplified the voices of people of colour. It has given a voice to those we imprison in refugee ‘camps’. It has allowed us access to different world views. It has helped people that feel ‘other’ in any way to find their own ‘tribe’.
Sure, it has also amplified the voices of the hateful and hurtful. But those voices are only loudest because we give them so much weight in the media. For every #gobacktowhereyoucamefrom there is more than one version of #Iwillridewithyou. For every #no filter, there is more than one version of #Iammorethan.
It is not social media that is at fault. It is us. The adults. The ones that aren’t keeping up with the program. The ones that dismiss progress as ‘kids stuff’, ‘irrelevant’, ‘dangerous’. The ones that think the world is getting less safe, not more safe. The ones that share fake news. The ones that don’t connect with their children in the ways that make sense to them, but demand they return to the safe old world where we taught respect for our elders by beating our children, drove without seatbelts and painted our houses with lead paint.
It is us. The adults. The ones that heap vitriol and abuse upon people like Mariam Veisdevah, Yasmin Abdel-Magied, Clementine Ford, Tracey Spicer, Benjamin Law or Julian Burnside. It is us, the ones that pose with our kids in our profile pictures as we type ‘I hope your raped you dumb fat c&&t’ under something we disagree with. It is us, the adults, that attack the person rather than the point under articles in the newspaper. It is us, the adults, that post pictures pretending to shoot our political opponents just after a school shooting.
There is NO online vs offline. That LINE exists only in your mind. The world is a seamless blend of tools that today’s children use to communicate, to learn and to be part of the world around them. And adults use them too, though some days it feels like they use them to despair of our children’s use of the same tools.
While their use of technology might be something that seems almost miraculous to those of that remember a world where our phones were attached to a wall, the way our children socialise, the way they interact with other people, the way they practice empathy, compassion and kindness, well… they are still learning that from us.