As our society adapts to the incredible changes technology has introduced, I think it’s important that we as parents encourage our children (and remind ourselves) to find a healthy balance between living life and living life through the screen of a device.
Recently there have been some eye opening confessions from social media super stars regarding the fake life that they have been portraying through their online personality status. Just last month model Essena O’Neill spoke out about how through living for Instagram and her paid advertisers she has completely lost touch with reality and has no idea who she is or what she really stands for. (There is, of course, some debate about whether this was in itself a publicity stunt – but regardless, I believe the message to be important.)
This is a tragic testimonial of the impact that the pressures of social media can have on a person and how corporations are using this medium to target vulnerable people. But it is also a timely reminder that we as parents need to ensure that our kids are actually living in the real world, living their life, laughing with friends, going to the beach and playing sport, all without the need to post their next selfie to prove they have a better life than the next person or to measure their sense of popularity and self-worth.
I realise that teens measure their popularity by the number of followers or friends they have and the number of “likes” they receive on a post, but this is the concern. Somehow in our conversations with our kids we need to highlight that the measurement should actually be the number of people you know in your friends and followers list, plus the number of these you would say hello to in the street or actually hang out with. I think it’s also important to encourage your teens to have a purpose with their social media; don’t post for the sake of posting and live waiting to count the likes to validate your self-worth for the day. Talk to your kids about posting because they have taken a stunning photo that is worthy of sharing – make it about the photo, not the shares or the like count.
That said, it’s about balance – and it’s therefore also important to understand that Social Media is not all bad if used well. It allows teens to accomplish many of the tasks that are important to them and can offer them deeper benefits that extend into their sense of self, including:
• staying connected with friends and family
• making new friends
• sharing pictures and exchanging ideas
• sharing with the community and the world, including enhanced learning opportunities
• accessing health information
• the opportunity for community engagement through, say, raising money for charity or volunteering for local events, including political and philanthropic events
• developing creativity through sharing of artistic and musical endeavours, growth of ideas from the creating of blogs, podcasts, videos and gaming sites
• expansion of online connections through shared interests to include others from more diverse backgrounds (such communication is an important step for all adolescents and affords the opportunity for respect, tolerance and increased discourse about personal and global issues)
• development of individual identity and unique social skills.
From the words of a very powerful YouTube video Look Up by Gary Turk. “I have 422 friends, yet I am lonely. I speak to all of them every day, yet none of them really know me. The problem I have sits in the spaces between, looking into their eyes, or at a name on a screen. I took a step back, and opened my eyes; I looked around and realised that this media we call social, is anything but. When we open our computer, it’s our doors that we shut …”
Thank you for reading my column this year! I wish you and your families a very merry Christmas and encourage you to put away your devices and spend time with the ones you love.
Caroline Bleechmore, Cyber Safety Advocate