August 1, 2021
Usually, the last blogs of the summer get sillier and less substantive. This happens for two reasons.
First, people who want a lot of deep content can go back into the previous blogs and read those. Second, I tend to get sillier as the summer goes on. I lose touch with “adult Steve” and become melded with “Steve Sir” – a far odder creature. The longer the session goes, the more camper-like I become.
As a result, this blog would usually be about dressing up as a tiger or an odd tale of 7-year-olds believing that they dismantled and re-assembled the Eiffel Tower.
But an article today brings me to a weightier topic.
Jon Haidt and Jean Twenge wrote an opinion piece about social media and its effects on children and teens. We have all sensed that social media is not exactly our best friends. It tends to make us angry, more lonely, more insecure and/or less confident. And that can happen to adults. The effects on young people are even more pronounced.
In fairness, Haidt and Twenge are quick to point out that the studies are not definitive. There is clearly a correlation between screen usage (or social media usage) and unhappiness. But as statistics teachers like to stress, “correlation does not assure causation”. In other words, we do not know if screen time makes us less happy or if unhappy people use more screen time.
But the article does mention a new data point that seems to point to 1) the fact that kiddos ARE becoming more anxious and lonely and 2) it IS a function of increased social media. It turns out that an international test that evaluates academic performance by schools internationally decided to add a few questions about whether children felt lonely. The results show that children all over the world are having the same experience at the same time. This suggests that what we have been seeing in the US is not limited to us – it is a phenomenon wherever we have teens and screens.
Please let me share a good paragraph and an interesting concept.
Here is the paragraph:
“By 2012, as the world now knows, the major platforms had created an outrage machine that made life online far uglier, faster, more polarized and more likely to incite performative shaming. In addition, as Instagram grew in popularity over the next decade, it had particularly strong effects on girls and young women, inviting them to “compare and despair” as they scrolled through posts from friends and strangers showing faces, bodies and lives that had been edited and re-edited until many were closer to perfection than to reality.”
Here is the concept:
We tend to think of what smart phones do to individuals, but not to groups. In my mind, I can readily picture a teen looking down at a phone. But they mention that when everyone else is also looking down, it effects the entire community. Imagine arriving to a college orientation ready to connect with your fellow Freshmen. You are all in a room together. You have no phone, but everyone else does. Who do you speak to? The entire group dynamic is changed.
Both the individual and the group are changed.
OK, I know this was a heavier blog, but it is NOT meant to be a depressing one. Why is that? Because YOUR kiddo is getting the rarest of experiences – fun and friends without screens. They are learning that you CAN live without being perpetually connected. Or, perhaps more happily, they are learning that you CAN live being connected playing cards, sharing stories and just talking.
We will all be battling the excesses of social media, but you can know that your campers have an experience – even a power – that they peers lack.
I think that is worth smiling about.
PS Yes, that is 9 high school girls without a screen in sight!