I’ve been reading a great deal recently about the affect of social media on adults and children. I have (and you may well have) seen articles about potentially damaging affects on kids, their brains, and their psyches. Articles in print and online, and even posts on social media, describe negative consequences such as increased impulse buying, decreased appetite control, negative self esteem, and even a reduced ability to think independently (1).
All that said, I know that media exists to generate interest, and one way to generate interest and traffic is to sensationalize certain topics - especially those affecting the vast majority of the population. As a result, I felt I had to check into the reality behind the hype. It’s fair to say there are a variety of opinions on the topic - all of them loudly stated on the internet. In my home, I’ve seen anxiety, short attention spans, and irritability - though I’m not sure how much of that is a direct result of social media abuse, and how much of it is a result of being a teenager. It’s tough, sometimes, to explain to your teenage daughter that life is not over when she’s not mentioned in her “friend’s” post about what a good time she had at the mall, or that it’s not a disaster if there aren’t enough “likes” on her most recent Instagram post. What is also true is that social media, smartphones, and online networks are a part of our reality - more so all the time.
It seems there are affects of social media use and especially abuse, but one thing on which most experts agree is that any affects are behavioral, not physical (2). That is to say that whatever negative affects result from social media abuse are addressable by behavior modification. For adults, that means making a conscious effort to put down the smartphone and focus on the moment in front of us. For our kids, it may mean involvement from a parent to help make those changes.
In either case, awareness of our behavior can lead to awareness of any negative consequences of that behavior. In my professional practice, I encourage awareness and mindfulness in many situations. Being present in the moment is so important - to our own health, and to the quality of our relationships. Tracking our behavior often leads to awareness, and I’ve blogged previously about the potential awareness benefits of self-tracking. Tracking one’s use of social media, and setting healthy limits on our time spent there may be a way to discourage any negative affects of these tools. An app called Moment can automatically log and report on social media usage, and even set reminders to log out. As an interesting experiment, take two specific days - one during the week, and one from your weekend - and write down every time you’re on a social media site. When tracking is not an option, physical reminders to encourage awareness might include notes on the bathroom mirror, setting timers or watching the clock to monitor our use of social media, or accepting the gentle reminder from our friend or family member.
Keeping the technology out of our kids' hands during homework time is hard. They say they need it to look at their textbooks online, use their calculator, share important homework info with friends in the class - list goes on and on. During homework time the phone is constantly buzzing with Messages from friends, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. How can they not look and see who is talking to them? Monitoring our kids social media activity and most importantly teaching them moderation is getting tougher and tougher everyday. Our parents never had this problem. Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic.
(1) http://www.rd.com/slideshows/negative-effects-of-social-media and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/social-media-brain-video_n_5784626.html