At the risk of sounding old, I am intrigued by how much social media has transformed the way we interact with each other.
I still can’t believe it at times. With one tap or click, you can share your thoughts with others whom you normally wouldn’t have much, if any, contact. Words such as “follow” and “like” have been given new meaning.
For teens, this way of communication is a given. It’s all they’ve known. Thoughts and ideas are shared en masse and with lightning speed. You don’t have to talk to people anymore to “know” all the details of their lives. They cannot fathom interacting in any other way. The idea of personal handwritten letters sent by snail mail is long gone. Telephone calls are so yesterday. Even email has become outdated.
For the rest of us who still remember the days of stamps and call-waiting, social media has also gradually woven itself into our lives. It’s inevitable. You adjust to the new norm, some more quickly than others.
Social media is here to stay. As a society and culture, we have shifted.
With this comes a new responsibility. It’s a responsibility I don’t think is taken seriously enough, especially amongst pre-teens and teenagers but also amongst adults. Myself included.
Children are experiencing yet another manifestation of peer pressure and cruelty, with nine out of ten teenagers reporting that they have witnessed bullying on social networks. Some young girls are turning to YouTube to ask if they are pretty. We may shake our heads at such immaturity, and yet we see examples of poor behavior amongst adults as well.
As we take for granted the ability to share ideas quickly and easily, we mustn’t take for granted the implications of what we say or share. It’s a drastically different dynamic online than in person. There is less inhibition. Less accountability. There isn’t any immediate feedback of another person’s face or body language. Children and adolescents who are still developing their sense of identity and self-worth are especially susceptible to either abusing this freedom, or becoming a victim of it. Our words can be powerful and fierce online. Just as we need to “think before you act”, we must also “think before you write”.
While people’s social sphere grows, so should our respect for others. Even as we become increasingly bold in sharing our thoughts, so should we become increasingly humble, compassionate, and thoughtful in our approach. And with every minute spent online, we need to question whether we are countering it with meaningful minutes spent offline to build face-to-face relationships.
I am still getting a feel for social media and figuring out healthy limits for myself. I want to understand what it looks like to participate in social media positively. It helps us connect with family and friends who aren’t in town. It helps spread good information and ideas to others. Spending time online while still investing time with people doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. However, they will compete against each other. I still wrestle with how this should look like — to still write letters and make the time for long heartfelt talks over the phone, while also benefiting from texts, tweets, and pins.
It’s a tricky and constantly shifting balance. As a parent though, I feel more compelled than ever to figure this out for myself. My children are growing up in this culture. I cannot shelter them from it, nor do I necessarily want to. They must learn how to navigate and use social media and the internet safely, respectfully, and wisely. I cannot guide them in this unless I understand it for myself and learn how to model responsibility in this arena. I also won’t know the dangers of this social territory unless I remain involved and aware of the lay of the land.
Social media is here to stay. For us and for our children.
Which begs the question…
How are we learning to be responsible in these types of interactions?
How are we conveying responsibility to future generations?