Social media has been the single most life altering invention our generation has witnessed, since sliced bread! Many of us can recall a time when chatting to your friends happened at school or if you were really lucky you got to use a landline! Let me not give my age away by talking about pen pals!
Our children are growing up in super connected lives, the world is literally at their fingertips, everything from explicit content to game cheats and celebrity news is a click away! It is all so much more convenient, we email family, we watsapp colleagues, and text friends – we are more connected than ever before.
Studies show that more and more tweens are feeling isolated and lonely, and admit that social media helps them develop friendships. Being online allows them connect with others and gives them a sense of belonging – it’s a tool of self-expression. And one can easily be lured into thinking that social media is serendipitious.
However one has to ask if all the connectedness is such a good thing? When talking to a screen name its easy to disconnect emotionally from the other person, to misunderstand or misinterpret what’s being said and in many instances one can over-share personal information. And once you’ve posted content or images online, its permanent – the impact of which can last for years. Sadly this has lead to cyber bullying, where children have been targeted online with spiteful, demeaning messages – resulting in a number of these children taking their own lives.
Much of our communication relies on social cues and body language, none of which is present online, and our tweens are having thousands of mini-real-life interactions on a daily basis. Online conversations give them time to measure a response and at the same time not see the impact a statement has on the other person. These ‘remote’ friendships can make real-life interactions seem daunting and ‘too-intense’.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of online predators using chat rooms to lure vulnerable children into meeting with them in real life. And whilst this may be a risk one can mitigate by monitoring your child’s online life, the greater risk is that social media promotes a superficial socialization that seems narcissistic at its core. Whilst we message, blog, tweet and post about everything we do, how often do we truly understand the impact of putting our personal lives on such a public platform?
As parents I think we should switch off the wifi, get our kids outdoors again and encourage them to connect with others through a hobby, a sport or social occasion and help them build strong, authentic relationships with others and more importantly with themselves.