Every Friday I babysit for a family in Chestnut Hill. There are three awesome, well-mannered kids ages 8, 11, and 13. I am basically a glorified chauffeur, running the kids back and forth from school to practice to playdates. This past Friday I took on a slightly different role. I spent the entire evening hanging with a group of five eighth grade girls at the mall. My initial thought was how fun it might be to hear about all the latest middle school drama and see if it was similar to what me and my friends used to gossip about when we were that age—school teachers we all hated, sports teams we played on, and of course the cutest boys in the grade. Not to sound too much like one of those cliché parents who talks about how, when they younger, they “had to walk to school every day—uphill both ways,” but woah things have changed since I was in middle school.
I can say pretty confidently that even though the five girls were all in the same physical location, they spent a majority of their time interacting with people who were miles away from us. They relentlessly checked Snap Stories and Insta posts to keep tabs on the whereabouts and activities of all their peers. Most of the conversations—if they can even be considered that—consisted of deliberation over whether “Rachel and Sarah are at the mall together right now” because the artwork in the background of Rachel’s snap story is recognizably that of the inside of Chestnut Hill’s Forever 21 store. How much more obvious could Sarah and Rachel have been? Or, the fact that they think “Charlie really likes Avery” because scrolling through their Insta feed, one of the girls noticed that Charlie had tagged Avery in a funny meme post exactly 14 minutes ago.
Eight grade girls should really all be detectives.
It was a long night to say the least. Who knew a night of sitting around, watching teenagers be on their phones could be so draining? But it really got me thinking about the irony of “social” media and how there is really nothing social about it. Five girls hanging out, heads down in their phones, interacting with everyone except each other.
Social media has tricked us in a sense. If I was told that someone had upwards of 500 Facebook friends and then asked what that meant to me, the words “social butterfly” might come to mind. In the same vain, if I was told someone had 700 twitter followers, I would immediately think “Wow they must be socializing people all day.” But that’s where the true irony lies, the more “social” you are on these social platforms, the less actually social you are. There is only one true interaction taking place, and that is between you and your device’s screen.
When you think of social media, you think of the ability to connect with hundreds, even thousands of people with the click of a button. When you think about it though, the time you spend on these platforms are probably the moments you are making the least connections of all. You are alone in your room looking at Facebook pictures, your walking in-between classes checking your WhatsApp messages, your sitting on the T on your way to work with your head down immersed in the latest twitter debates.
My evening babysitting left me curious, so I looked up multiple studies focusing on the detrimental social impacts of the latest generation’s obsession with social media. A study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that there are some major implications for young teens. According to a recent poll, “22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. Seventy-five percent of teenagers now own cell phones, and 25% use them for social media, 54% use them for texting, and 24% use them for instant messaging”(New York Behavioral Health). This means that the time unlike the former generation who spent their childhood splitting time between doing arts and crafts, building structures out with blocks, or hanging out with the other neighborhood kids, kids of the latest generation are splitting their time between their IPhones, IPads, and computer screens. A huge part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring online, and with that comes serious social implications.
Generation is doing less and less face-to-face communication meaning they aren’t learning vocal or visual cues to the same extent. If we do not learn these cues, we are not able to properly adjust our behavior in certain situations. This hinders one’s ability to build and maintain healthy relationships with people in our lives. Both social anxiety and social “awkwardness” are becoming more and more prevalent (New York Behavior Health).
So what do we do? Don’t get me wrong, I realize there are many upsides to the increase of technology and time spent “interacting” with our screens. We have clearly all seen and experienced the benefits of social media, so ripping the phones out of the hands of Generation X might do more harm than good. That being said, I think we do need to reevaluate a little bit. We need to recognize that the time spent staring at our screens is taking a real toll on social development. I think we need to call a spade a spade and give the term a more suitable name. My vote? “Anti-Social Media.”