How technology and social media is changing our kids.
By Andrea Slaydon
When I was 12 years old, a boy named Coy gave me a golden ring out of the vending machine. Apparently, this meant he was my boyfriend. After a day’s long relationship, I decided to end it. I remember being so nervous about breaking things off. I wrote down what I was going to say and practiced it over and over. Then, it was time. My stomach was in knots. I ran up to him in front of the band hall and gave him the ring back. I remember the look on his face–sheer devastation. Poor Coy. Fast-forward to 2015. How do you think this same scenario would go down? I’m guessing a quick “I’m breaking up with you” text? Maybe. Perhaps I might snap chat a quick message, or I could always just change my relationship status on Facebook. Social media and the use of technology has changed everything from the way we order our groceries to the way we interact with our closest friends and strangers across the globe. What impact is this having on our children? How can this affect them down the road? What can we do about it?
How much are kids really using the internet? New information out from the Pew Research Center shows 92% of teens ages 13-17 go online at least one time a day. 24% of those say they are online “almost constantly.” These kids are not just browsing around. Pew says 71% use several different social media outlets, with Facebook’s being most popular, followed by Instagram then Snapchat.
“We are raising children who are unable to look at someone and hold a meaningful conversation. They don’t know how to handle the face to face,” said Jana McLain, Ph. D., LPC, “They are missing a huge piece of learning how to read body language and social cues from others. It’s almost like a way of life.”
As a Licensed Professional Counselor, McLain sees children who are unable to express themselves appropriately.
“Many of the children I see on a daily basis cannot use feeling words to explain why they are upset. Often times, they expect their problems to be resolved without discussing what went wrong. It is sad to see basic interpersonal skills fading out and a society of one liners taking shape,” said McLain.
Humans are wired to interact based on certain nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions or body language. With social media, that factor is gone. From texts and messages, everything is sugar coated with silly character faces that show emotions, or “emojis.”
Stella Greer is a high-school counselor and former teacher. Over the years, she has noticed children becoming less and less comfortable speaking to other people.
“Instead of telling someone they are upset they send a face with smoke coming out of it’s nose. The lack of communication and expression is creating havoc that will follow this generation through their lives,” said Greer.
“When I was in the classroom I noticed their spelling was horrific,” said Greer. “They would spell the way they text. I had students that would put IDK for an answer to a question. IDK stands for “I don’t know.” Instead of trying to answer they would put IDK down.”
McLain believes the world of social media will negatively impact kids in their future professional lives as well.
“As an adult, we are expected to participate in meetings, conferences and social events. Many jobs require the employee to speak with customers or clients to exchange goods or services. Our children are missing out on the early stages or communication. They are not learning to listen, respond and interact,” said McLain.
Greer knew she had to do something when she noticed the worrisome problem in her own house.
“I began to notice my teenage son would sit on the phone and text constantly, but given the chance would not talk to the same person on the phone,” said Greer. “He became braver, too, revealing more of himself to people he barely knew. When you have a screen to look at you feel invincible, and the fear of the unknown is gone. This is putting this younger generation in danger of predators. After feeling my child was spending too much time texting instead of talking I took away that privilege.”
With texting taken away, Greer’s 13 year old son was forced to talk on the phone to a friend.
“I was shocked to see that my son had a hard time even working the phone. Listening to his conversation was excruciating. He had no idea how to talk on the phone. I felt so bad for him because it was so awkward. But practice makes perfect.”
Technology and social media are not going anywhere. A separate Pew study found that by 2020, members of Generation Y will “disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities. Even as they mature, have families and take on significant responsibilities their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will carry forward.”
So, what do we do about it? It needs to start with the adults.
“Parents and adults need to engage children in meaningful conversation. We need to put down our phones, tablets and computers and set an example for the children at our dinner tables. Look around at restaurants, how many families are actually talking? Sadly, very few. The vast majority are on their phones or using tablets to keep their children quiet,” said McLain.
“Conversation takes practice, and the overuse of social media will make it much harder for children to learn this much needed skill,” said Greer.
Mom of five, Stacey Benoit recently allowed her 15 year old to set up a Facebook page, but she keeps a close eye to what’s going on. “I have the password so I can check it anytime I need to. Also, she only gets to use electronics every other day if her chores are done.”
Melissa Hale’s 14 year old has a private Instagram account. “She is following only 138 people, whom I also follow,” said Hale.
You can self monitor or let technology help. Avira and TeenSafe are examples of programs that allow you to link up all of your child’s social media accounts. Parents are sent social media monitoring reports via email.
“The more we address and talk about this growing problem, the more likely we are to find a simple solution,” said McLain. “We are the role models for the children in our lives.”