Tik Tok took my childhood (how social media is or is not ruining childhood)

Okay, so Tik Tok didn’t take my childhood… to be honest social media in its present from wasn’t even on the horizon. Like I mentioned in my previous post I am in that generation that remembers the invention of the internet. I remember thinking a phone where you could see the person you were talking to was straight out of Back to the Future.

So this brings me to the conversation at the center of this week’s debate and my struggle to land on one side or the other as to whether or not social media is ruining childhood. From the readings and videos this week as well as the in class debate there are clear and concise arguments and research on both sides. So yes many people may believe that social media is destroying childhood as we know it but there are also many ways that social media is increasingly finding ways to create a space for children to learn and explore in ways that weren’t available to them before. That then brings me to the ideas that keep me firmly planted right in the center of the debate. The problem here then sometimes becomes who decides what the best possible childhood is. My childhood was different from my parents and it is impossible to argue that my kids haven’t already experienced a vastly different childhood then the one I knew. So really to argue that social media is ruining childhood is to say that we all need to experience childhood the way the generation before us did. So, here is the problem- to make a blanket statement like social media is ruining childhood means that we miss the some of the ideas around the fact that social media is in many ways creating opportunities to make childhood even more amazing. So before we can land on one side or another we need to look at the benefits and downsides of the impact of social media.

The negative side of social media

In the article from vision.org the point out that childhood provides them the time they need to mature and learn critical lessons. to relate to a peer group, to be part of a family, to learn to be with siblings, and to play. They go on to say that time spent on social media takes away opportunities to experience time with friends and time outside and as a result children  they don’t develop that storehouse of happy memories. So the response from many people is that social media is taking away the opportunities to experience the childhood experiences that we had growing up. However at the same time people acknowledge that the world isn’t what it used to be. Many people who say that social media is ruining childhood will point to ideas like From preschool to the teen years, research shows children who spend time outside are happier, healthier and smarter. But despite these critical findings, a study at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research showed that children under 13 spend 30-minutes or less per week in unstructured play time outdoors. In fact, “Because social media has become such an integrated component of human interaction, it is important for clinicians interacting with young adults to recognize the balance to be struck in encouraging potential positive use, while redirecting from problematic use,” said Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., a senior author of the research project and the director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and health, in a statement. All of this also points toward the arguments that many people make of how Stories of a curated social life hiding a distance and depression from an unachievable reality. Like the story of Madison Holleran. Others will point to the inability to escape the way social media invades so many aspects of our life and that it is constantly with us (Back to the Future even got that right). Lots of adults know and recognize the idea of being always accessible and the difficulty of striking a work/life balance. However compound the struggle of being always accessible and you can see how students are no longer to escape bullying by going home or in some cases even by switching schools. Last year, research at the London School of Economics found cyberbullying was now more common than face-to-face bullying, and almost a third of those surveyed said they had seen negative or abusive online content, including hate messages and self-harm sites. According to Jean Twenge, without exception, all screen-related activities are associated with less happiness, while all off-screen activities are linked to more happiness. For example, eighth-graders spending 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who spend less time on social media.  So clearly social media is ruining childhood.

The upsides of social media

So then what are the upsides of social media. If so much evidence shows that it is harmful and problematic and impacting childhood in these negative ways what is redeeming about social media? Well the reality is, it has served to open to many teens and young adults. Why is that so important? I think when we look at many children who often feel disconnected from their peers at an elementary school level it is because in a small class of 30 there may not be many other peers who share their interest. So when they get to high school they find their world expands. Suddenly when your peer group grows from 30 -200 you realize there are more people out there who share your interests or views. Social media allows young people to find the people who are interested in the same things on a global level. So as much as many social media sites can be used to bully or troll they also allow students to find peers that they would have never been able to connect with before. So this idea of the global community can really help a lot of young people find a place where the fit it in. It has often been shared that social media has served as a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ students to find others who might be experience similar things when they can’t find peers in their own home community. Add to this the idea that social media is also allowing kids to learn and grow and understand things about the world around them you can start to form a case for why social media is a good thing.

What side am I on?

To be honest in the end I fall somewhere in the middle. I think that technology and social media can be just as powerful a force for good as it can be harmful. So just like the world has changed since I was a child in terms of the fact that we don’t send our children off into the day with a bicycle and a backpack we shouldn’t send them off into the internet unprepared. Just as we teach them about them about the dangers in real life we need to teach them about the dangers of social media. The same way we teach them to be good citizens in their classrooms and communities we need to teach them to be good digital citizens. So I think technology isn’t what is ruining childhood but it is changing childhood. So as much as we want our young people to experience life in a way we did and now the benefits of balancing screen time with exploring the world we need to recognize that we can’t force them to have the same childhood we had. The world is changing, childhood is changing and so instead of fighting against social media and painting it as the villain we need to recognize that it is not going anywhere and learn how to teach our children to be smart, kind and caring online so that the pros of social media outweigh the cons and out kids can continue to change the world for the better. Until then let’s keep TikTok for dancing, Instagram for pictures of avocado toast, Facebook for messages from your great aunt and high school friends in other places, and maybe everyone should quit twitter like Hasan Minaj.

One thought on “Tik Tok took my childhood (how social media is or is not ruining childhood)

  1. “…we need to recognize that we can’t force them to have the same childhood we had” — I think this is the key thing, Will, for me. Sometimes it’s really easy to get caught up in comparing what I experienced with what I see kids as experiencing now. You’re right – to answer the question, “Is technology ruining childhood?” demands an examination of our really subjective views of what a “good” childhood is. It’s really difficult to have a clear perspective of this — memory is a trickster. And, ultimately, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Technology is here to stay, so regardless of whether we think our childhood was “better” or not, we need to figure out the ways in which technology can make our children’s childhoods better. Also, in an unrelated side note, I have a baby crush on Hasan Minhaj.


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