In this next post on the topic of social media and it’s effects on society I want to focus on the use of social media by those under the age of 18.
My reasoning for this series of posts is because I do believe that with regards to children, social media can be as least as damaging if not more damaging than porn. From my perspective it sets unrealistic expectations on life, and leaves people craving an online fix or approval above actual human interaction.
In a way I was quite fortunate in that social media didn’t become a part of my life until I was 20 years old. So preteen/teenage peer pressure for me was a small group of friends asking you to drink a beer, or a crush looking to meet up for a romantic encounter, and usually this pressure could only be conveyed face to face, or over a 1 to 1 text message.
However these days, a lot of kids are feeling the burden of being a social media star. They are “friends” with their whole school, and suffer with constant anxiety as they think of ways to get their next set of “Likes” or “Retweets”. Without this constant validation they do not feel like a valued and worthy part of the collective, especially when it has never been easier to statistically analyze your popularity within your peer group. “Sure Kathy from Science class may have got 162 likes on a picture of her cat”, but what kids (and even adults) don’t see is that Kathy is at home eating cat food for dinner, because her family are in crisis. All we care about at that moment in time is the number of likes she got that day, and how much more popular she is than us.
Even worse than becoming click-bait monkeys looking for likes and retweets, is the collective and invasive peer pressure children with access to social media accounts have to suffer. Before the advent of social media, if a group of friends invited you to the park, you could decline and walk away. But these days you cannot walk away, the constant buzzing of your phone reminding you that they are either talking about you, or insulting you for rejecting their request. Once you’re safely home from rejecting their request they can still get to you through technology even if you’re locked safely away in your room.
Because so many children have easy and free access to social media and pornography, and because group peer pressure is 24/7, it is becoming increasingly hard for children and young adults to separate what serves them as a normal functioning member of society and what is self-loathing group think approval. This is why I believe we are seeing such a sharp rise in children falling victim to revenge porn. Never has access to pornography been so easy and never has group peer pressure been so prevalent and intense. If everyone else is claiming they are sexting each other, and everyone else is telling you that’s what they are doing, and you are getting pressured via messages on your phone to do it while sat at the dinner table with your family, when you’re alone in your bedroom, and when you’re walking home from school. Well eventually it’ll become the expected norm to send a school mate an explicit photo of yourself, without considering the long-term impact or consequences.
This is why I think we need to seriously consider restricting some of the features and applications available to those under 18, or at the very least start engaging them on the differences between real life and the pressure filled online world of sudo friendships. We need to let them learn how to build meaningful friendships where you actually care about the person behind the avatar and how they are feeling on a daily basis. Let them learn that it is more important to have 1 or 2 close friends who will look after your cat when you’re sick, as opposed to only having “friends” who will like pictures of your cat, but cannot be found when called upon for help. Let them learn that what they see online is only what people have allowed them to see, which is usually only the best bits of ones existance. Let them understand suffering, humility and sorrow, and how to handle their negative emotions without hiding behind the quick fix of a few likes from a motivational quote they retweeted.
Just let them be kids!