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Is Social Media Use REALLY Ruining Our Youth?

Several people I spoke with are very concerned about the increasing use of media among what is now somehow dubbed the M2 generation (8-18 year olds).  I understand the concerns, but, as the parent of two boys in this generation, I also take some exception of the brushing generalities.

I showed the Kaiser Family Foundation’s study to my 17-year old son and talked with him about his impressions. Thomas and James are pretty typical of this age group but also good students, active athletes with many friends. Some comments from my son:

“First off, I personally spend way more time ‘using media’ than was cited in the study, and I’m sure many of my friends use more. I use a lot less than my friends do.

“The study said that half of all youth do their homework while also using media. I believe it should be much higher. For example, classmates and I recently had a hard project due the next day and my friends’ posts were all along the same line ‘could you help me find this’ or ‘this project sucks.’”

“While I don’t spend quite 90 minutes per day texting, my little brother (nearly 15) definitely does. I don’t text near as much as my friends. My brother basically never stops.”

It’s a fairly accurate picture as you can see from this picture of them playing…and texting…but doesn’t mean the family is falling apart. For example, texting just does not happen during dinner at our house. It’s one of my rules as we have family discussions during dinner and we don’t allow the interruptions. (Yes, we do have dinner together as a family at least 5 times per week.) My husband and I fought the texting phenomenon for several (or it seemed like it) years but have succumbed to texting our kids when they are out. We understand it’s how they communicate with each other. Can they still have a conversation with us? Yes and we make sure they do on a regular basis.

Our “Internet rules” are based on trust with our sons. They know that we can check their history at any time and restrict their use/turn off their phones if there are any concerns or questions. Through family discussions we have taught them limits on where they should and shouldn’t go. We hope we’ve taught them to make good decisions.

We are “friends” with our kids on Facebook and I helped them set up on Twitter – now abandoned by them – and enjoy exploring the Web with them. When it’s time to do a school project, they first turn to the Web for research. Google search and the wealth of information on the Web mean they rarely use books as primary tools. But it doesn’t mean they don’t read. My eldest is a voracious reader but he also gets a lot of information from the Web and/or television.

“I had a teacher who purposefully made us use books as primary sources for a project because as he said, we do our research by going to Wikipedia getting a basis of knowledge and then ‘skimming’ five to ten sites for more in depth information. I thought it was a complete waste of time because it took so much time to read the book. I didn’t really see what was wrong with ‘our way.’”

Is our kids’ use of social media really that different than our talking on the telephone all the time when we were kids? Think back to your parents always telling you to get off the phone, limiting your phone use and such. Is this really that different? I have to wonder if those who are concerned about young people using so much social media are kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. We’re talking about how this is ruining society while using the exact same tools to spread the word about our concerns. We’re fueling the fire…or are we?

By |2018-03-18T23:03:09+00:00January 25th, 2010|Social Media|1 Comment

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 

One Comment

  1. Shonali Burke, ABC February 3, 2010 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    That’s a good question, Mary. I guess it depends on the circumstances surrounding the use of those media (social, telephone, etc.) – and whether there are enough safeguards put in place against misuse by those in authority – as you and your husband did.

    I’m not a Millenial, but I’ve completely succumbed to the lure of texting & Twitter (which latter, so many Millenials have not). At the same time, I know how important it is to maintain “real” relationships. I encounter many bright “young” people who know that as well; and they use technology to their advantage while continuing to build relationships the “old-fashioned” way. So what’s ruining who here?

    At the end of the day, it’s not right to generalize – though it’s tough not to do so. So even though today’s “youth” may be painted with the same brush, I think what’s going to make the difference is what kind of environment they’re nurtured in. Because human values aren’t going to change, no matter how much technology does.

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