Can you think of a time when you’re with a teen who isn’t tapping away on their cellphone? I can’t. The new norm is for kids to wake up and grab for their phone. They need to check their social media before using the bathroom, or brushing their teeth. How weird is that?
Think back to when you were 13. The difference is so big that it’s staggering. I was at a Starbucks a few weeks ago, and two moms were sitting and chatting. One mom had her baby in a stroller and was holding up an iPad for the baby to watch so she could have a minute of adult time with her friend. Kids are literally staring at a screen from infancy throughout their life.
Anderson Cooper’s team recently conducted a two-year study, following 150 13-year-olds (eighth-graders) across the country. His team had access to all their social media accounts and analyzed every single piece of information these kids put into the universe. I break it down into categories: social, bullying, sexual, selfies and addiction to cellphones.
Social: Some teens check their social media accounts more than 100 times a day. They check it while they’re at school, at home and even when they are out with friends. Nobody wants to miss out on anything. They don’t want their friends speaking poorly about them and not be able to respond immediately. They want to know whether their friends are out doing fun things without them, or whether their friends have lied about their whereabouts — because once they post a picture, they will be caught.
This strikes me as incredibly odd. When I was growing up, if my friends said they couldn’t hang out with me (which meant riding bikes in the hood), it was no big deal. Today, if a kid has to break plans with a friend because they are busy, they are too narcissistic to “not” post what they are doing, and with whom they are doing it. Therefore, it makes the kid who got stood up feel worse, because they can see what the other one is doing without them. That just seems like self-inflicting torture.
These kids want to see who “likes” their posts, and they compare their numbers to their friends. Kids want as many followers as they can have, even if they don’t know, or don’t like, the person. Social media is not just about having your close friends follow you, it’s about the number of people who follow you and like your photos. Life as a teen is a virtual 24/7 popularity contest; can you imagine how much pressure that has to be?
Bullying: A lot of bullying takes place on these sites. Anderson’s team named one “Sin of omission.” That’s where a group will take a picture and someone will post it on Instagram. Then, the person who posts the picture will tag all the kids in the photo, except for the person they don’t like. While it may seem subtle, and you as a parent would have no idea, it’s a passive-aggressive way to bully someone and hurtful to the kid who wasn’t tagged.
Anderson Cooper was interviewing one of the boys in the study. This boy had “bullied” a girl for hours, and when Anderson asked him why, he said, “Because I’m a kid and I’m crazy and that’s what kids do.” Come on, dude, really?
Sexual: There is very sexual content that our kids are exposed to. I don’t care what you think you know about your child, they are “in the know.”
Selfies: Some girls admitted to taking more than 150 selfies to post just one. They want to know whether other kids will approve. Birthday parties nowadays start 30 minutes early so kids can have “selfie sessions.”
Addiction: Kids are so addicted to their phones, that they would rather be grounded than lose phone privileges. That means that they prefer the cyber world to the real world. Wow.
I do not envy teens today. In some respects, the technology is incredibly cool. But weighing the pros and cons, I’d prefer it the old-fashioned way all day long.
What say you? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.