The Truth of Social Media and How it Affects Teenagers
Watching my children on social media and hearing their angst has shown me the truth that as a mother I cannot ignore. My daughters, aged 14 and 10 have given me the true glimpse into their purview of the world and this is what I know for certain:
1) Social media is their TV
As disturbing as this may sound to many of us old fashioned parents from the 80’s, kids watch snippets of thousands of programs, rather than 3 hours of 3–5 shows. They have a limited view of the world (despite tech giants explaining our global views) and they are at the mercy of a crypto algorithm, that pops up a new video with a scroll right or left, up or down, and whamo new content magically appears on the screen.
2) It Makes Them Feel Bad (unless it’s a video on slime)
My dear sweet Peyton has decided to ban herself from YouTube for awhile. She said it was fun at first but then video after video pops up and now there are so many ads. She still loves her videos on slime, as she finds awesome ways to make it from contact lens solution or good old Borax.
Her view of the world is reduced to YouTube and Netflix and any suggestion to watch regular TV is met with, “MOM! That is so last century!”
My oldest daughter Shiah has bravely showed me her view of Instagram and Snapchat. In her 14 year-old delightfully hormonal tone — that reminds me of another mom’s description of mean-agers — “Mom, you just don’t understand. If I don’t have Snapchat my friends will stop talking to me! How will they get a hold of me?” Or another personal moment, “Mom, why does Instagram make me feel bad? I don’t look like those girls on here.” Trying to explain to a 14 year old girl that no one looks like them is absolutely futile. Yet I persevere.
3) Kids believe they can’t live without it
Like all addictions, social media is one that makes me sigh really long and really heavy. For many parents there is a sense of helplessness to our situation. Algorithms showing our kids one dimension to who they are. Silent, isolated spaces where our children lose vast amounts of time in the vortex. My desperate pleas to “turn the device off” are met with gasps. How dare you mom and my favourite utterance, “Mom, you are ruining my life.”
What we can do about it? I’ve taken a radical approach by making a tech startup called Mazu whose mission is To Awaken Families with Love. Not sure about you, but as a parent I am awake, watching what is happening to my kids and I am just as scared as you are. What is going on here? Like all dreams that startle you and you jump out of bed and you think your dream is real. For me that is what it felt like when I saw how my kids could not live without the device that I their loving parent gave them. They literally lose it on me when I take it away from them. Is this just a toy or is it bigger than that?
I birthed these little girls into the world. When I first saw them I thought how perfect they are, one had my ex-husband’s ears. My other had my nose, my chin, and freckles on her nose. To me they are perfect, even with a chilling 14 year old hormonal tone that stops me in my tracks. These babies are mine and I am their guide for their life. Their dad, me, their grandparents, my sisters, my fellow sisters at the school yard. This is my kid’s real life village and my kids, your kids, they need us. Lots of us. More of us.
More of us to say no, more of us to say that picture is not real, no you cannot ask for naked pictures, no you should not send those pictures. Instead, here, this is a great video, this picture has a core value, oh yeah, all content here has to have a core value.
One thing I know that is not last century and is still very cool — kids need love. In the house, in their neighbourhoods, and in their digital spaces. We need to protect them so they can be nurtured. We need to protect a digital space for them — a walled garden where we can marinate kids in love.
Creating a digital village built on core values is really hard so we need you, my kids need you, and your kids need you. I realize the tech is not going away, I cannot change the systems that have them hooked, but we can create an alternative. An alternative digital world that celebrates love.