A Cautionary Tale about Technology and Social Media

The Child Mind Institute reports that an eighth grader’s risk for depression
jumps 27 percent with frequent use of social media.

In 1908, the first highly successful Model T was introduced, cars in the city of Detroit were seen as a vexing problem. That summer, 31 people were reportedly injured or killed after being hit by a car, or after a car accident. Many more deaths were reported. In those days, there was little understanding of speed, and people trusted horses to keep them safe more than they trusted a person behind the wheel of a car. As the Detroit News reported in a retrospective 2015 article, the nation was, at the time, in the throes of a chaotic and menacing problem: cars driven by inexperienced drivers, and the absence of guidelines on how to navigate this life-changing mode of transportation. 

The chaos of the day required new thinking to manage this new technology, and Detroiters came up with stop signs, traffic lights, and lane lines, to bring order and safety to this new invention that terrified the masses. (Some people thought that getting into a car was akin to getting into a moving bomb ready to explode.) 

Cars came onto the scene and changed our way of life before we fully comprehended their advantages – and their problems. Eventually, we figured out how to manage traffic (sort of), and created laws to enforce speed, and protect pedestrians and other drivers. Over time, we built safer cars, and passed seat belt laws. And while too many people are still killed in car accidents, driving today is safer than ever.

We are now experiencing our own “1908.” The Internet exploded onto the scene in the 1990’s, followed by social media, forever changing our society and how we interact with one another. Most of us remain enamored by being able to connect with people all over the world, to “surf the web,” and buying almost anything we want from the comfort of our sofas. 

And, like television before it, computers and the Internet have also been embraced as tools that have revolutionized our schools, and improved education. There is still lingering talk in some circles that online learning will effectively replace teachers. But just as television did not supplant teachers, neither has the Internet.

In truth, the shine has worn off of the Web, and reality has set in. We understand that the Internet and social media are deeply flawed and can be dangerous.  Countless articles outline the ills of social media, and how poorly and ineffectively technology is used in many schools. Every article draws the same conclusion: By design, we have become slaves to our personal devices through the commercial strategies of Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Snap chat, Twitter, and Instagram. YouTube auto play, for example, captures our kids’ attention with video after video for hours each day. The big players in this space have a lot to gain by keeping us attached to our devices – the more traffic, the more advertising revenue. As Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager, and founder of Time Well Spent says, “This technology steers what two billion people are thinking and believing every day.”

For users, the loss of time and meaningful engagement between family members is obvious, and has real, negative implications. In addition to the addictive power of the Internet, some research has identified a connection between excessive use of social media and depression. The Child Mind Institute reports that an eighth grader’s risk for depression jumps 27 percent with frequent use of social media. Other reports correlate a spike in teen depression with the launch of the iPhone. (There is more recent research however, that refutes some of this earlier research, making it all the more confusing to ascertain the real implications of social media on our children.)

MIT Psychologist Sherry Turkle discovered that many Silicon Valley professionals – knowing the risks surrounding too much technology – limit their own children’s use of technology and social media, going as far as to send them to schools with limited or no technology at all. 

On one hand, we know that social media connects us to more people more frequently; however, we also know that these connections are often superficial and lack meaning or substance. Teens today are less likely to socialize in person, so in the end, they actually feel more isolated and lonely. 

My son Yoni, who worked at Google and now is at Reddit, a social news aggregator, recalls that when he was in middle school and learned on a Monday that he wasn’t invited to a particular party over the weekend, the hurt he felt was transitory. Today, our kids routinely find out in real-time about their social exclusion through social media. This exacerbates feelings of loneliness and isolation. Another destructive aspect of the Internet for our children is the growing prevalence of cyber-bullying.

Now that we know the pitfalls of the Internet and social media, we need a remedy. I believe each of us has a role to play. Large tech companies have an ethical responsibility to manage their bottom lines and focus more on what is better for humanity. We parents must more closely monitor our children, and, yes, delay giving them personal devices and access to social media. The average age of a child receiving a first device is now 10. This is too young to use it responsibly.

Teaching responsible use of technology in schools that deploy it as a learning tool must also be a high priority, as it is at Schechter. This includes helping our students manage the amount of time they spend using technology, and how to use it ethically, legally, and safely. Schools also have to invest more time using the technology for deeper, more meaningful, and creative learning, or we shouldn’t bother using it at all. We need to both develop and institute technological equivalents to stop signs, traffic lights, and lane lines in order for it to benefit us and our children, not the big platforms or advertisers. 

Now that our honeymoon with technology is over, we must confront its shortcomings, and harness its good. We have much work to do, and it is imperative that we address it now. Fortunately, I am an optimist. Like all the other “new and great” life-changing inventions that have come before us, I believe we can and will make the necessary course-corrections to diminish the dangers of technology, and to leverage its positive powers.

I’d love to hear your ideas: What do you do to help ensure responsible use of technology in your home?

8 Comments

  • Craig Weisz - January 30, 2020

    We didn’t give our son a phone until he went to high school, and we still haven’t given our 8th grader a phone. She also cannot use her computer in her room alone. And we have always enforced early bed times. These efforts may have contributed to their good grades. Hard to know.

    Yet the school Chromebook still seems almost like an appendage for her. We regularly tell her to close the screen, read a book, or call a friend on the home telephone. We get eye-rolls. She often says she cannot do any of her school work without the computer, and she gets sucked into watching YouTube videos in her study break times. Even she acknowledges this is too addictive.

    I understand its convenience, but as a physical, mental, and social health issue, tying so much of the school work to cloud-based, computer-accessed resources and utilities has a toxic effect. We encourage book-reading and family games. But all this often feels like a losing battle.

    Thank you for keeping up on this important issue.

    Reply
  • Alicia Messer - January 30, 2020

    I agree with your post. I’m not sure if the school has a screen policy regarding the bus but if not I highly encourage one. My second grader has been shown rated R movies on the bus ride home and I know from other parents that their children have seen things not appropriate for young kids.

    Reply
  • Elaine Schlossberg - January 30, 2020

    Excellent article. Points well made and should be taken to heart by every parent , grandparent and teacher. The effects of these problems are still to be discovered and handled.

    Reply
  • Sandra Froimovich - January 30, 2020

    I also agree. Does Schechter have a firewall in place to make sure students do not have access to inappropriate content while they’re in the building? Also, do teachers use Goguardian or something similar to ensure that when students are on their laptops during class, they are actually using them only for educational purposes?

    Reply
    • Seth Guttenplan - January 31, 2020

      Hi Sandra. Thank you for your comment and questions. Schechter does have web filters and blocks any inappropriate content while on the school network. Also, middle school teachers have been introduced to and are encouraged to use LANSchool, which allows them to monitor and even control what is on a student’s laptop while in class.

      Reply
  • Best SEO Company - January 31, 2020

    Awesome post! Keep up the great work! 🙂

    Reply
  • Jaide - February 3, 2020

    I agree as well. I would encourage Shechter to have a school-wide community recommendation for when devices should be given and alternatives ( device recommendations without access to social media) if a child does need a phone ( for parental tracking and communication) beforehand. I think Schechter has enough concerned parents to support this type of stance.

    Reply
  • Rafi Josselson - February 7, 2020

    As a student, there are definitely major harms out there with social media. And yes, in school we do need protection. But, we also always should remember the positives. Never before have we been so much in touch. I call my grandmother ( who lives in PA) almost every day, we talk about school and other things. Also, not all social platforms have bad influences on them, sure there may be R-rated content, but there are also some very helpful videos. Youtube, which is a popular site these days for kids, has some pretty good educational channels. But as always, as a student, I still recommend time for students to balance their online lives and their social lives. It is important to get outside, and get physical activity, whether that being sports, walking your dog or even, getting fresh air. I used to do much more time on my phone, but as I have been reading more and more books, I have realized how more relaxed I get. So my simple message is for the parent and the kid to talk it over and make out some guidelines. I don’t think it works when a parent takes away all technology, it makes the child upset and sometimes bored, and when a parent lets the phone be a babysitter, the kid will never learn to get off. Lastly, when most kids in this school reach middle school, I have realized that many kids have gotten Social Media, even my brother who is 9 has TikTok and Instagram. Even though my mom says I can get these platforms anytime, I have decided (by myself) to not get these apps. Mainly, this is because when you are in your teens and (in middle school) your brain is constantly developing, and numerous studies shown that social media is not the right choice for kids this age. I’d leave it to the parents and kids to decide when they should get Social Media, but as I have myself, you must educate yourself on both sides of the debate, and revisit the situation (when needed).

    Rafi,

    Reply

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