So… I debated this week.
I was so nervous! Debates in a normal setting – you know, the ones with non-verbal communication that indicates when one can speak? – make me nervous. The idea of jumping in and out of a debate online when I don’t see those non-verbal cues made me even more worried.
Whoa… did I just prove one of my opponents’ arguments valid?
Okay, before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s start at the beginning. At the start of the term, I signed up for this side of the debate, unsure of what exactly to expect. Honestly, I chose the debate because of the due date; it was the one that worked best for my schedule. The side of the debate I chose was a byproduct of the ones that were already chosen. In fact, prior to doing my research, I was in complete agreement with the idea of Social Media Ruining Childhood. Just like the agree team – made up of Amy, Carter, and Logan – argued, social media can ruin childhood because of the negative side effects. Cyberbullying, mental health, sleep deprivation, physical health, and the pressure to mature quickly and always be “on” are all negative side effects of the misuse of social media for children. There is a lot of negativity present online, where scrutiny and bad experiences never disappear. Online friendships do not have the same benefits as friendships offline, and social cues (including the non-verbal ones!) can’t be portrayed online. Kids are not acquiring the skills they need for the future.
Or are they?
Just like my amazing partner in the debate, Ellen, posted in her blog, our society is changing. We are changing. Society has always evolved and grown throughout the years. Childhood, in the past, differed than what our childhood was, which will differ from the childhood of the future. Modernization and evolution cause this. It becomes a true disservice to children when we fight against this change and growth, or when we focus on the negativity that comes with it. Nothing is ever black and white, and rarely 100% positive or 100% negative. It is important to weigh all sides of this argument equally; the positive, and the negative.
Perhaps kids are developing the skills they will require for the future: digital literacy and problem-solving skills; digital citizenship skills and cyberbullying coping skills. As our world evolves, so do the skills required for future generations. If we begin using social media – as a tool – with our kids from the start, enhancing their childhood with the good it can cause, perhaps we can reduce all the negativity we focus on later in life, when they are adults. Then maybe we can avoid situations like that of Justine Sacco.
So what exactly is the good? There are a multitude of benefits to social media, like building strong friendships, a network of genuine support, and a sense of belonging that may not be available in the reality of everyday life in a home community. Kids are less lonely now than they were before, they are more empathetic, considerate, and relationship-oriented. They are less stressed when using social media, and are presented with more social justice situations in which they could actually act. They can all have a voice (even those who are shy) sharing their creativity, knowledge, and critical thinking skills with the world. Changing from an audience of only one (the teacher) to an audience of many encourages more quality work.
So where does this leave us?
Yet again, I am nor 100 in agreement, nor 100 in disagreement. There is a balance. Kids shouldn’t be on their social media accounts all the time. They need to interact, face to face, with other kids. They need to go outside and play. I think we all know that everything in excess can be bad for you; heck, even too much exercise isn’t healthy. However, we can’t ignore the evolution of our society. I know for the longest time I wanted to do just that. I am rarely on social media; I don’t use it well, nor consistently. It has taken me 26 years to join Twitter and Snapchat. A friend made a Facebook account for me because I wouldn’t make one myself; and I never use it. I am (or was) the adult romanticizing my childhood, afraid of what the future might hold and all the negativity that was so evident with social media. I know that we want to protect our children from the bad that is out there, the foul language that can be seen in comments on YouTube (although I understand you can block these), or the inappropriate content of music videos. That is a normal feeling.
However, the more I study social media, the more I read about it, and the more I see it in the schools, I begin to understand that perhaps the best way to protect our kids is, in fact, presenting them with what exists. Showing them the world, focusing on the good but not hiding them from the bad. This is the new childhood; I need to embrace it to use it advantageously for our students.
In the end, I am still torn on this topic. Having argued the disagree side, I can’t help but defend it even within this blog. However, I can’t say I disagree entirely, and with the win being given to the agree team this round, I see our class is the same.
Another day, and yet another idea to ponder.