Social media sucks, or saving the kids along with ourselves


Toward the end of May I had the opportunity to attend a #SavetheKids presentation at Evanston High School. I’ve found myself mentally returning to that presentation repeatedly.

I’ve also found myself on social media a lot less.

For those who are unaware, the presenter, Collin Kartchner, focused on the many problems associated with social media usage and extensive use of technology in general. He encouraged teens to get off their phones and start forging real human connections. He encouraged parents to set better examples.

I’ve thought about his words a great deal. At one point during his presentation he apologized, on behalf of parents and adults, for creating this mess for our children. That apology specifically has played on repeat in my head many, many times.

I’m sorry, too.

The only social media platform I use is Facebook. I’ve avoided Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter and whatever else there is out there. I managed to avoid Facebook too until about two years ago, when I reluctantly started actually using the profile I had created years earlier for the sole purpose of playing fantasy sports.

After years of having an account in name only, with no photos, no posts and no information whatsoever, I gave in and responded to friend requests that had previously been completely ignored. As much as I had railed against it, I found myself sucked into the world of posting photos, reading and responding to other’s posts, sharing stories and more.

I increasingly find myself upset at my own behavior and how easily I betrayed my own values that had caused me to shun social media in the first place, even though I was never someone who was on Facebook constantly and I tried to be careful about content and privacy.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about the urge to share so much of our lives with a bunch of random people online. I’ve been thinking specifically about my kids, and all kids.

What are we doing to them really?

With the recent end of the school year, I have seen multiple people posting about their kids’ end-of-the-year accomplishments and awards, as well as graduation photos, photos of kids getting ready for school parties and dances, and even videos posted by people who chaperoned some of those dances.

Looking back on my time as a youth, I know, with 100 percent certainty, that I would have been mortified if my parents had filmed my school dances and shared those videos with hundreds or even thousands of people. I wouldn’t have wanted my parents sharing every little detail of my life with a bunch of so-called “friends.” I would have considered it an invasion of my privacy and an example of my parents living vicariously through me.

When I think about it that way, it’s appalling to realize that’s exactly what many of us are doing.

Of course, my parents took photos of milestones, including awards, proms, graduations, etc., but those photos weren’t shared with the world at large. I wouldn’t have wanted them to be.

And for all those kids, and their parents, who are deservedly proud of those end-of-the-year awards, what about all those kids, and their parents, who consider it an accomplishment to have simply made it through another school year? What about the kids who don’t receive accolades for academic or athletic endeavors, but are artistic or kind or funny?

What are we saying to those kids and our collective values when our Facebook feed is full of nothing but the lauded accomplishments of others?

During his presentation, Kartchner encouraged people to do good deeds and not share them on social media. He’s right.

He also encouraged people to fail at something and post it, proudly. Unfortunately, I rarely see those kinds of posts.

Which is why I stayed away from social media in the first place — it’s not reality. People don’t post about the disasters, the screw-ups, the bad parenting days or bad decisions. People only post the good stuff, and that leads to the massive amount of depression and anxiety we’re seeing in our kids, and in ourselves. It’s completely normal to be depressed or feel inadequate when it seems as if everyone you know has a life that’s better than yours.

Not only is it not reality in terms of portraying only the good stuff in people’s personal lives, it’s not reality in terms of the bad either. The other side of the coin is that people frequently share stories, memes, jokes, etc., that portray one another horribly.

When thinking about the explosion in the use of technology over the past couple of decades, I can’t help but think there’s a correlation between that technology usage and the rise in other events that have unfortunately become a part of our reality, like mass shootings, for instance.

I’ve often thought that those who commit such horrific crimes must feel completely alienated and isolated from others. How could anyone who felt any sort of human connection display such wanton disregard for human life?

The answer, I’m afraid, is at least partially that they don’t feel that human connection.

We live in a world that seems to value that human connection less and less. Instead of going out and actually talking with friends in person, we message them through an electronic device. When we do manage to go out and be with actual people, we find it absolutely necessary to document it and share it with everyone else in our social media circle using that same hand-held device. We frequently interrupt that face-to-face time to respond to phone messages.

We argue almost incessantly with people online, like anybody who is either anti- or pro-Trump or pro-choice or pro-life or Democrat or Republican or anything else is going to have their mind or heart changed by a Facebook argument. The more we continue to argue, and demonize those we argue with, the easier it is to stop seeing people as just that — people. 

The really unfortunate thing is that if we were to actually sit down face-to-face with folks and really talk, we’d likely be able to reach some type of consensus on most things. Instead, however, we seem to prefer to sit in front of little screens and argue and malign one another.

Is it any wonder then that we live in a world where it’s so easy to devalue others? We as adults seem to do it regularly. Why should we expect anything else from our kids?

We would all do well to remember Kartchner’s words about social media — use it for good or don’t use it.

It’s finally (we hope) summertime in Evanston, where we have some of the most wonderful summers on the planet. I personally plan to get my kids and myself away from the electronics and get outside and enjoy it, without documenting it for the masses. It can be addictive to post photos – I’ve learned that for myself — but it’s more important to actually be present in those moments. Besides, it’s incredibly annoying to have family time, no matter where, interrupted by people trying to snap that perfect social media photo. 

When I think back about my life, the memories are what matter, regardless of whether or not they were documented for posterity. I don’t want my kids to remember that when we did something fun together, Mom just had to stop to take and share a selfie.

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