Oh how the word “like” has changed. In sixth grade Randy asked me if I “liked” Jessica or like “liked” Jessica. It sounds so odd now, but this was a typical–if not the quintessential–question of adolescence in the late 80s. While like-like might still exist, “like”, as in I “liked” your photo on Instagram is the far more common usage. In fact, as I write this on a Saturday afternoon my phone lights up every few minutes as friends “like” my photo of Huck and Harrison on the Angel Island Ferry from our morning adventure. These “likes” make me feel good and, with access to a brain scan, we would see dopamine being released with each notification. I like “likes.” We all like “likes.”
A recent New York Times article, shared with me by a MTS parent, reveals the dark side of the “like.” The story opens with a sobering and sad statistic. “It is now just as likely for middle school students to die from suicide as from traffic accidents.” Just four sentences later, the author connects the rise in suicide to social media. The recent rise in adolescent suicide is driven largely by a steep increase in suicide by girls and girls dominate social media.
What is so bad about social media for adolescents?
On social media platforms popularity is quantified– “my post only got 15 likes, hers got 50.” I have known middle school students to delete posts that do not get enough likes and girls who talk about how Instagram is used to determine one’s “relevance.”
Social media exacerbates FOMO–fear of missing out. In seventh grade, I had no idea that John, Seth and Randy were all having a sleepover as I watched Perfect Strangers. They were the cool guys having fun together, I was the not cool guy alone. I was perfectly happy, though, because, in part, I did not know what I was missing out on. Many social media platforms make it hard to be alone and happy.
Mistakes are amplified as photos go viral. The social faux pas previously only seen by the handful of people present can quickly spread to a far larger audience. Now the previously hyperbolic statement, “everyone will know how lame I am” is not so hyperbolic.
The “like” is everywhere, not just Instagram and Facebook. The same parent who shared this article briefly mentioned the app Musical.ly. This app allows users to create music videos to share with friends. Fun, right? Aside from the prospect of your child singing and dancing to songs you might not approve of, there is, of course, the “like” function built into this app. It is ubiquitous.
I have read countless articles and a number of books that enumerate the dark sides of technology. Most are short on solutions. Here are the few to consider as you take on the world of social media with your children.
Delay as long as possible. You will undoubtedly hear that “everyone” is on the latest app. They most likely are not. At some point though, your daughter will be right about this one. Wait it out as long as you can.
Be on the app. Understand what you are allowing your child to download. If you don’t “follow” your daughter or son, have a friend or relative. Noticing that your daughter never posts but you know she is on the app a lot? Look for a second, hidden, account.
Phone free times. Aside from the dinner table and homework time, designate other phone free times. I strongly suggest having sleepovers be phone free. Adolescents + peer pressure + little sleep = recipe for social media disaster.
Talk about the issue. Share this article with your teenager and talk about it. Common Sense Media and others have great resources for parents. If you have older children and a willingness to take on a heavy movie, you might consider watching Audrie and Daisy on Netlix and talking about it with resources from the website: http://www.audrieanddaisy.com/.
Model good behavior. Are you bragging when you get 100 “likes” on a Facebook post? Are you on your phone at all hours of the day? Our children notice these things. This is one I know I always have to work on.
If you have made it this far and thought, “Thank goodness I have a boy” think again. While boys are less driven by the popularity contest of social media, they bring their own digital age issues. In learning more about musical.ly on Common Sense Media I saw that this “innocent” app can be used to quickly access pornography, a major internet destination for adolescent boys that has its own consequences and impacts on wellbeing.
“Liking” has replaced like liking and it is not going to change anytime soon. As we wade deeper into the digital world, please know you will have a partner in MTS. We are joining the Common Sense Media Supporter School program and will be bringing more digital citizenship lessons into our curriculum. We also hope to host a “Digital Life 101” workshop for our parents later this spring. Finally, please know that we are partners in your child’s mental well being. If you ever think, “my daughter is not acting like herself” reach out to us. We will do the same. Together we can make a difference in keeping our children healthy and happy, regardless of the number of “likes” on their latest Instagram post.
Head of School