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Kids These Days

This post was originally shared in our email newsletter on April 17th, 2023.

The national conversation around social media has recently focused its attention on kids. As we explore Keap’s concerns with social media, it’s increasingly hard to completely separate them from how social media is affecting future generations. I’ve heard from many of you as parents and educators that your own views on social media often pertain to how it affects children in your world. I can say personally that this topic is my number one concern when thinking of my own child’s education. 

Current media coverage tells a story of kids being hopelessly addicted to social media: They have no self-awareness of it, and simply can’t handle the immense power of social media to rewire their brains. 

These ideas are partially true. Social media addiction in teens is real and pervasive. The consensus in the psychology community as I understand it is that widespread adoption of engagement-driven social media is at least a major contributor to our current youth mental health crisis. Our brains’ psychosocial maturity functions continue developing well into our ‘20s — meaning that social media use by teens can cause more long-term impacts to emotional regulation capacities, in ways we don’t yet completely understand.

But a lot of this coverage makes it sound as if adults are somehow immune from these harms. A 15-year-old today being told they can’t handle social media—but that adults can—has legitimate grounds for indignation. “Look around you”, they might say. “Clearly you can’t handle it either.” 

After all, our brain continues to evolve well past our 20s. I can say from direct experience that many of us older folks are hopelessly addicted to social media—and still don’t always have that awareness of how our usage is modifying our behaviors and actual neural pathways in our brain

Meanwhile, a few kids in Brooklyn started a Luddite club that gives (figurative) social credit for opting out of the social media ecosystem. It’s grown into a nationwide movement whose main merit lies in simply reminding us that we have a choice in how we use technology.

Many parents have an awareness that it can be socially debilitating for a teenager to unilaterally go off social media. An interesting experiment in a Western Massachusetts High School indicated that if an entire school or community ditches social media together, kids are happier, healthier and don’t want to go back.

Across the country, other youth grassroots movements have emerged questioning the way we use social media. We could learn a thing or two from our youngins, especially as we start the work of creating humane social networks that replace our current landscape. 

If you have kids under 18, what are they saying about this? Or if you are yourself under 18 reading this, how do you think about the impact of social media on your life?

– Harry from Keap, Steward-Owner 

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