Let’s Teach our Kids About Social Media

jill carstens

In light of the events that happened at our nation’s capital January 6, I think it is more important than ever to monitor how we manage our time on phones and social media.  With so many challenging situations happening right now, unsubstantiated sources show up easily with advice about COVID-19, the election results, and recent protests. Our kids need guidance. I wrote this article in mid-December but have added some points in light of the events of January 6th.

The smartphone and all of its cousins became a regular part of our lives when my son was a teenager and before it was common for parents to give these pocket computers to children under the age of 10. I experienced life before these devices and have been one of those teachers who warned that phones should not be a part of early childhood. When I was a kid, the fear was of the negative effects of television, but children’s programming ran only at certain times of the day. Imagine if your TV was on all day, but it only played an unending stream of commercials. This is not too far-fetched from the unending content on Facebook and Google.

The recently released Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, details how idle internet scrolling can lead to addictive phone use and the potential for being led astray by unsubstantiated sources.  I urge you to watch the documentary. In the meantime I will summarize some of the points.

The groundbreaking artificial intelligence that was created and is used by Facebook, Google, and others documents the clicks we make on our phones, creating custom content which encourages us to continue to scroll and, in turn, increases their abilities to sell more advertising.  Idle scrolling, unchecked, especially for vulnerable, uninformed youth, can evolve from minutes into hours and can lead the user off in unintended directions.

Short-term rewards (likes), disguised as actual forms of popularity, create tricky situations for young people to navigate. My son had his first experience with Facebook when a school club required him to join at age 14. For a while he became obsessed with how many “likes” his posts received. During several conversations, I urged him to get perspective about it. Luckily, the attention it took to participate in this endeavor began cutting into time he would rather spend on other things, so he eventually dropped it. Not all kids are able to detach so easily. During this time period, especially when the iPad was a hot item, his friends who came over would barely talk or interact, faces buried in their devices. The never-ending content of portable games and videos is manufacturing a generation (or two) that would rather look at a screen than interact with someone face-to-face.

Newport Academy (newportacademy.com), a treatment center for teens, cautions that this obsessive behavior can impede the development of social and coping skills, labeling the phones a “digital pacifier.”  “[These kids] have lost the ability to soothe themselves with real-world reflection, activities, and relationships. Instead, they turn to social media for distraction and entertainment.”

During the conclusion of the documentary there is a call for the regulation of companies using AI and to hold accountable those who initiate misinformation using social media platforms.  Former Google software developers interviewed spoke about the issue of digital privacy and that we need protection against what was originally designed as a tool that is now “starting to erode the social fabric of how our society works,” as one professional put it. January 6th’s events are an unfortunate example of this.

Dependency on digital media begins when we give devices to toddlers instead of teaching them positive coping skills.  Things we can do instead:

  • Avoid giving your child a phone as long as possible, I recommend age 10 at the earliest. You can also get your child a limited functionality phone that will work for calls and only apps or games you enable.
  • Model good phone behavior – resist the urge to pick it up when bored and choose instead a book or magazine or conversation.  Do not allow phones at the dinner table.
  • You can now program routers to allow certain devices in your home a limited time period of Internet connection.
  • Have a straightforward conversation with your adolescent or teen about the fact that not everything on the Internet is true. Teach them about trusted news sources and enlighten them about the dangers of idle scrolling and the potential for misinformation.  If they cannot find corroboration for a source, it is most likely false information. The more your kids understand what is going on the more likely they will agree to limitations.
  • Find alternative search engines like DuckDuckGo that do not track their users.

Jill Carstens is a proud Denver native, a passionate mom and a teacher her entire adult life! She picked North Denver as her home base in 1997, and has run Milestones Preschool here since 2011. If you have ideas for an article or further questions for Miss Jill, you can email her at jillcarstens2605@gmail.com


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