The dark side of social media – too big for parents alone

A rebuttal to the CNN report with Anderson Cooper, “#Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens,”on Oct. 5, 2015

What an incredible opportunity to expose the honest issues of digital socialization.

And…what a missed opportunity to offer honest solutions and credible research.

At first I watched Anderson Cooper with a sense of relief, thinking “THANK YOU” for exposing the unintended consequences of the digital age. However, half-way through I found myself reenacting the famous Michael Moore/Wolf Blitzer explosion, screaming, “Do your job Anderson, ask the questions!”

Just because we can be connected 24/7 does it mean we should? If social media communication is causing kids to feel depressed, anxious, stressed and even suicidal, how do we carve a path to moderation and implement boundaries? Can a kid choose to opt out? How does it shape the development of adolescence?

doubleedgedsword-273x300

In one of my classes, a student painted this double-edged sword to illustrate the good and the bad about social media.

Our society has yet to “recognize that our technology is powerful and potentially addictive,” Dr. David Greenfield, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, School of Medicine, said in an interview with me after the show.

But Anderson Cooper concludes, as if by rote, that the responsibility falls solely in the hands of the parents. The solution; monitor your kids’ use and talk to them. That’s all we ever hear. But it’s not enough, it’s not always feasible, and monitoring your kids online, at all ages, is by no means accepted as the best way to teach them how to be responsible users of digital tools

How are parents supposed to handle issues such as sexting showing up on their kid’s phone? How do you handle the passive aggressive forms of bullying? The total emotional breakdown when you separate your child from their phone?

One of the show’s experts, Marion Underwood, underscored the issue, “Even the parents who would be the most vigilant about monitoring … wouldn’t know enough to know the small hurts that sort of pile up on kids over time.”

Right. And what about the 13-year-old boy alone in his room receiving a nude photo of a girl on his phone. Is he going to emerge from the room to say, “Hey mom, can we talk about this?” Let’s get real.

The true solution is education. We must implement a plan of action to bridge the research and the strategies. Media and Digital Literacy gives  children, parents and educators the tools so they know what to do in these situations.

Dr. Greenfield recommends teaching “conscious computing” which teaches a moderate use of all things digital. It’s one of the principles of my “Embrace and Let Go” program that is rolling out in Massachusetts schools this year.

The bottom line is, there are programs and strategies available to help youth, parents, and schools to find our way together through this new challenge. Let’s get these programs into schools, elevate the conversation and give parents and educators the tools they need to support the generation that needs support.

Anderson Cooper inadequately concluded, “I wouldn’t want to be a 13 year old today.” I’m sure these kids feel the same way. But let’s not just leave them with that unhelpful sentiment and move on. It’s our responsibility to do something to help the young people who have been brought into the world we created.

An excerpt from  Celling Your Soul: No App For Life,” by Joni Siani

The truth is that we have gotten off track in our connection industry and it is obvious we need to make a correction. The challenge will be whether we can find enough people who are brave enough to admit it and start making those corrections.

I believe that before we teach our children how to talk to a million people in a fraction of a second, we should first teach them how to talk to just one. Before we allow them to tune into the static sounds of our mediated world, we should teach them how to tune into the quiet whisper of their own reflective thoughts. Instead of working on your brand, work on yourself. Incorporate the Embrace and Let Go paradox of embracing the good in technology and know how to let go for greater personal fulfillment.

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