Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said that if he had children, he would keep them off social media. He added he had imposed strict limits on his nephew’s technology use, reminding young people there were still concepts better left discussed and understood in person, rather than online.
He joins a list of industry giants who have opined similarly, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Their opinion should be heard not only by the young but also by adults, who spend as much, if not more, time on social media.
Many parents are active on social media, so is it any wonder our children want in on the same virtual world? Which is probably why, despite every red flag raised by experts, and the platforms themselves having minimum age requirements, kids open their own Facebook or Twitter accounts and indulge themselves on the internet.
What’s wrong with social media?
In the book “Growing Up Wired, Raising Pinoy Kids in the Digital Age,” authors Queena Lee-Chua, Ma. Isabel Dionisio, Nerisa Fernandez and Michele Alignay cite a study by psychologists from the University of Michigan, which surveyed and analyzed 72 studies of 14,000 college students in the US from 1979-2009. It revealed that college students of nine years ago “scored 40 percent lower in empathy than those of the past decades, with the biggest drop coming at the turn of the millennium.”
The connection to social media is not immediately apparent, and it seems that violent video games and media are more to blame. But a closer look explains how the ease of creating online friendships has made it easier for people to “tune out,” both online and offline.
“Growing up Wired…” quotes teen counselors Barbara Melton and Susan Shankle: “How can children develop empathy and compassion when the electronic world allows them to meet and discard people at the drop of a hat?”
Isn’t it ironic that in this day and age, we have thousands of friends at our fingertips and yet, the number of physical interactions—from friendly visits to family dinners—is also at its lowest?
A quick swipe is all it takes to know what our friends are up to—who needs to sit down and catch up? While social media has connected everyone, if used too much and in the wrong way, people could also “reduce the frequency of full experience of emotions…,” neuroscientist Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang says.
Sometimes this can also deceive people into assuming they’ve become close to someone just because he or she follows one, likes or comments on one’s photos and experiences. But real friendship is built on shared experiences—mundane or sublime—and such moments foster genuine love and friendship.
Scientists have proven that it takes our brains time to respond to the emotional and psychological pain of others. We need stillness and a chance to reflect to understand another person’s pain, but “with constant, intrusive technology, there is ‘no downtime, no stillness.’”
Instant gratification discards the virtue of patience, of trying to understand the suffering a person is going through.
TV and internet use has been affecting child development. Kids think everything is about them—they cry because they need to be fed or cradled immediately. But as they grow up, they must mature and realize that the world does not revolve around them. All factors should combine to mold them into well-rounded persons, aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
But a young person, exposed too early to social media, may miss out on the critical period of growing up. A child who lacks empathy may become narcissistic and suffer from depression and similar symptoms.
“Growing up Wired…” warns us against lack of empathy —which means a lack of concern for consequences and an inability to deal with bad situations.
Technology and social media can rule our lives and reduce the depths of our feelings and emotions. But we can also use them as tools to deepen our emotional involvement in relationships. This can be achieved only by an older, more experienced individual with enough discipline and self-control—something a child still sorely lacks.
While they are young, it is easy enough to keep children off social media. However, there comes a time when we will have to let go.
At that point, we can only hope that, as parents, we will have instilled enough sense and values in children for them to know better than to post online things they will regret, or to use their accounts for negative interactions. Or, just as regrettably, to allow themselves to be victims on social media.