By Heidi Mikac, Youth First, Inc.
Many of us are guilty of overusing social media and ignoring its negative impact on our mental health. Before our eyes are even adjusted to the morning light, most of us squint at our bright rectangular screens to check social media sites or text messages to make sure we didn’t miss anything. As a Youth First Social Worker in a school building, I see the consequences of social media overuse and misuse every day in both my students and myself.
When I was in middle school, I remember the dreaded dial-up modem. It would take a painful amount of time to get on the internet, and it would make that irritating sound that made my ears bleed. No sooner than I was able to get onto my computer game, my sister would make a phone call to her boyfriend and knock me off the internet.
Now, students can look up anything in a matter of seconds. Middle school aged kids crave validation and admiration from their peers. The way they seek that nowadays is through social media. When I went to school, I would seek it through writing and theater. I used to enjoy hanging out with my friends outside riding our bicycles (or those totally rad Razor scooters!).
When I ask most of my middle school clients what their plans are for the weekend, most of them tell me that they will be watching YouTube or scrolling through social media. Several studies have shown that the overuse of social media (especially in children) is contributing to self-esteem issues and depression.
Cyberbullying has contributed to these issues in a larger way than we can imagine. It is easy for kids and teens to digitally harass someone they don’t like at school from the safety of their bedrooms – or sometimes even the classroom.
There have been many occasions when I’ve had to deal with students who are taunting each other through social media sites or their school email during class. It seems some kids are hyper-focused on their social life, and it’s causing them to neglect their academic work. In my observation, this is contributing to a rise in serious school disciplinary actions, such as in-school suspensions, suspensions, and even expulsion.
So, is it worth allowing kids to have phones? I know there may be some gasps when I suggest that maybe unlimited access to phones and social media does more harm than good. Many parents are concerned that they won’t be able to directly contact their child without a cell phone, which is understandable. However, being a nineties kid, I can tell you that I survived not having constant contact with my parents via cell phone.
When I was a kid, being without a cell phone (or internet) forced me to go outside with my friends, exercise, and avoid drama. Although cell phones may now be a necessary part of our children’s’ lives, it’s important to find a balance between the connections children make in the digital world and those they make in the real world.