In order to arrive at a conclusion to the question of whether social media is ruining childhood, it is important to consider two elements – is social media impacting children’s health and how do we define childhood.
The first question can be answered by revisiting the 3rd debate about whether technology is making our kids unhealthy. In that debate a lot of the arguments focused on the effects of social media on children. The disagree side argued that social media can support health in kids by motivating people to exercise, providing support, and offering a virtual space for kids to counteract bullying and cyberbullying. These arguments were challenged by the agree team who stated some of the negative effects of children spending hours on social media sites. Hours spent online, isolated from nature and others can lead to Nature Deficit disorder and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The arguments were strong for both sides of the debate and I recall that I struggled with choosing a side and settled instead on suggesting that a balance between screen time, face time, and nature was necessary.
The arguments introduced in this current debate about whether social media is ruining childhood reinforced to me that balance is key. Social media was blamed for causing children to grow up too quickly by exposing them to content that is not age appropriate. On the other hand, others claim that social media is beneficial to children’s friendships, sense of belonging, and ability to express themselves. This debate, just like debate #3 reveals that there is no obvious answer about the healthiness of social media during childhood. There are both benefits and drawbacks.
The second element to be explored in answering whether social media is ruining childhood, is the concept of childhood itself and what a normal childhood looks like. The disagree team introduced this into the debate by explaining that the concept of childhood is a social construct that is influenced by the society in which that child lives.
The concept of what a normal childhood looks like has changed drastically in a short period of time and the pace of that change continues to accelerate. In North America, prior to the 1940s the idea of childhood was relatively stable for a long period of time and it was viewed as a period of time in which children were prepared for adulthood. Children were expected to contribute to supporting themselves and their family by working. The industrial revolution, invention of the automobile, and creation of child labour laws have lead to changes in the idea of childhood and the creation of a new concept, the teenager. Today, adults often lament over how much childhood has changed from what it used to be. They view these changes as losses that must be corrected, as opposed to the normal evolution of childhood in a technology dependent society. A common complaint from adults is how much time kids spend on social media and adults are concerned about how this is influencing childhood.
The video Technology is Destroying the Quality of Human Interaction and the article Is social media sabotaging real communication both discuss how too much time is spent of social media to the detriment of human interaction. The author of the article states that “our only real method of connection is through authentic communication.” The inference is that social media is not an authentic form of communication. Is there only one objective and static definition of what authentic communication is? If our idea of childhood is fluid and socially constructed, could not our idea of authentic communication be as well? Much like how the concept of childhood has changed and even been expanded to include a new category – that of the teenager – will not our concept of authentic communication change to include new forms of communication such as social media? Social media is so ingrained in the fabric of our society. Should we not acknowledge it as an important method of communication and help children learn how to navigate the nuances of this type of communication?
So considering that social media has both positive and negative effects on children’s health and that what we consider as normal for childhood is influenced by society, how do we determine whether social media is ruining childhood? The unprecedented acceleration of technological change in contemporary society has removed many commonalities in childhood experiences that previous generations have with the current and future generations. So how can we ensure that our judgment of a healthy childhood is rooted in the realities of what children experience today and not a nostalgic view of our own past childhood? The society in which we grew up is very different from today’s society and what was normal for us as kids is no longer a valid measure of what is normal for future generations of children. One generation’s view of what is ruining childhood could be the next generation’s view of what made it great. Given the difficulty in objectively answering this question, are we better off accepting that social media is here to stay and focusing our efforts on providing children with the tools they need to utilize social media in a healthy way?