The Social Dilemma – How Will I Raise My Future Children?
Like many others this week, I tuned into Netflix’s harrowing new documentary, “The Social Dilemma”. As someone who both works in the industry and is also very addicted to the dopamine rush from any buzz notification, a lot of what I was told was sadly not all that surprising to me.
What did shock and stick with me however was the rise of depression amongst Gen Z since the introduction of social media? After the introduction of social media around 2011-2013, hospital admissions for self-harm increased by 62% for 15-19-year-old girls and 189% for 10-14-year-old girls in the US. Even worse, suicide rates rose 70% for older teen girls, and 151% for preteen girls.
The documentary explains how this generation as a whole is more anxious, fragile, and depressed than any other. They’re much less confident taking risks, fewer are getting their driving license and the amount they date or have any romantic interaction is dropping rapidly.
I am a Millennial – don’t @ me – which means I got my first Nokia 3310 at 11 and I wouldn’t dare go over the character limit for texts. As phones advanced, they gained internet buttons that I would close immediately if I accidentally opened so I wouldn’t be charged. I would take it in turn with my siblings to use the computer when I got home from school so I could spend as long as possible on MSN. I made a bebo account, then a Myspace account, then a Facebook account. Not once did my parents ever ask to see what I was doing or check on me and my messages, and god knows how I would have reacted if they tried.
But could I do the same? Now I know what I know about how steep rates have risen, could I happily let my hypothetical pre-teen children scroll on socials, and risk them contributing to the statistics?
In school, we had assemblies on the danger of Cyberbullying, and online predators, but the idea that it would damage your mental health wasn’t even known about so much back then. Perhaps it was the introduction of Instagram much later that led us to care about feedback on our faces and bodies, which led to the harsher effects of depression.
As a grown-up adult ™ my experience of social media is a very positive one. For work, I run the socials for wholesome children’s brands and interact with parents to spread positivity, brand affinity, and rarely hard sell. My personal social feeds are full of people with different body sizes, ages, races, and religions and aim to be uplifted by the content I see. But to expect my children to have the same experience as me is naive. They will be born in a different era that we cannot even begin to predict or comprehend, especially in these ✨unprecedented times ✨
So as a potential mum raising a teenager, what are my options?
Option 1: Don’t let them have a phone or access to social media until they are 16
Cons: They will resent me for being left out, they will miss out on group chats, pop culture, and memories with their friends, I am being stricter on them than my parents were with me, I’m not giving them any trust or freedom
Option 2: Let them have a phone, but monitor and watch over their usage
Cons: A huge trust and privacy breach. No one wants their parents to read their texts to their crush, and no one’s parents should ever want to.
Option 3: Let them have a phone, but only at certain times of the day. Limit screen time.
Cons: I would then be forced to do the same, so not to look like a hypocrite, even though I’m only playing candy crush on it (I am a mum after all)
Option 4: Teach them well. Advice on the type of people they would benefit from following. Explain how a badly worded tweet can ruin your chances at a job. Lend them So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Watch The Social Dilemma with them. Show them Jesy Nelson’s Odd One Out documentary. Be frank and have honest conversations. Reiterate the risks, and show them you understand.
Cons: They could ignore you. But if done right, why would they?
What needs to change is a better offline education about the online world. Children will always defy the rules they dislike, so we need to raise them smarter, not stricter. Technology will only continue to advance – and hopefully with more awareness – one day for the better.
Flossie Joseph – Strategist, Wilderness Agency