I’ve long held the opinion that scaremongering about teenagers’ use of social media is more a reflection of parents unease with a new medium than anything else. There is, of course, good and bad in everything and teenagers do make mistakes and hurt themselves on social media but that’s true in the offline world too and not a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. To my mind it’s very clear that social media is net positive for society in a big way. And, the genie is out of the bottle now anyway.
A historical perspective is useful here. The advent of every new form of media has been met with widespread fears about the damage it would do to society before being adopted into the mainstream and ultimately regarded as normal. That was true for books, cinema, TV, and mobile phones and in time I sure it will be true for social media.
Reading an NYT write up of recent Pew Foundation research into teens social media use I’m seeing the first signs that we may be approaching that point now.
Amanda Lenhart, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center and the lead author of the report is quoted as saying:
Adults have tended to see time online for teenagers as this frivolous, time-wasting thing that’s just entertainment. But what we found is that it’s crucial for teenagers in forming and maintaining these really important relationships in their lives.
Also interesting is the thought that hanging out online is replacing hanging out offline because parents are less willing to let their children go and meet their friends in public spaces, usually due to safety concerns. This line of thought suggests that social media use by teens is good for them. Well over half of teenagers say they have made new friends online and that social media use brings them closer to their existing friends. Hence they are very happy with their social media use. Otherwise I guess they would do something else…
All this mirrors what I see in the real world. My daughter starts a new school in September and when we went to meet her new classmates the first thing they all did was jump on a Whatsapp group together. Since then they’ve been bonding virtually in a way I think will make her first day much less scary.
I think that’s great, but other parents we know aren’t so sure. With more surveys like this and the mainstream press adopting a more positive tone I think that will change.
On a side note I think that virtual reality may be the next technology to scare society. What happens when people start disappearing inside virtual environments for hours at a time? Whilst their muscles waste? That can’t be good, surely…. :ironicwink: