Some social media suggestions from the Surgeon General
“Be aware of and attentive to the time you spend as an online spectator. Social media will have you believing that your life is meaningless even though you’re doing more than most people, offline.”
In a couple of weeks, we will head out for the Winter Holidays Break. Our students, faculty, and staff have worked long and hard over the first semester, and they all deserve some time off. Thank you to them and to our parents for a productive and enjoyable first half of the year.
As happy as the break can be, we are also aware that students may spend even more time than usual on social media during the time away from school and its responsibilities. While this may enable them to stay in touch, as study after study and incident after event have shown, there can be deleterious effects. In countless conversations over the years, young adults have acknowledged the harm that can result from spending time on social media; however, they feel powerless to eliminate it from their lives. In particular, young women realize that some forms of social media capitalize on their insecurities and body image issues.
So, how can we support them to make good choices? Keystone provides programming around social media and technology for students in grades 5-12 through our partnership with the Social Institute. But what about the times when students are away from school?
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy shares some helpful suggestions. An article called “Parenting Digital Kids” in Harvard Magazine describes the government’s efforts to combat the ill effects of social media. “During his second stint as surgeon general, Murthy has focused on mental health and recently has honed in on technology,” the article notes. “In May, his office released a health advisory on social media’s effects on youth mental health. He acknowledged that every generation has its technological battles but argued that social media represents a paradigm-shifting threat because it has infiltrated every part of young life.”
Helpfully, Murthy offers three pieces of advice:
- Establish tech-free times and spaces. Periodically removing screens can help children meaningfully engage with others and learn to spend quality time by themselves.
- Lead by example. Children get annoyed when their parents are on their phones, and struggle to accept guidelines their parents don’t follow. During meals, he suggests everyone set aside their phones, and take the time to check in on each other.
- Introduce “positive forces” into the lives of your children. With his family, he enjoys playing sports, reading stories, and bringing his children to playdates.
Murthy also makes some common sense recommendations. For example, instead of texting someone who calls and saying that you cannot talk, answer the phone and tell them. While this may sound like an inconsequential change, Murthy argues that actually hearing a human voice creates a humane connection.
For better or worse, social media is most likely not going to disappear from our lives nor those of our children. Sadly, in this day and age, the inevitable mistakes that developing young adults make will have consequences with impacts that are much broader and longer than when we were children once those errors are posted online for all to see.
However, together, schools and parents can teach children and young adults how to navigate social media successfully so they don’t suffer by using it. As Murthy says, “We want a world in which our kids aren’t judged for every mistake they make,” he concluded. “Where they’re not condemned because they had a bad moment, or because they used the wrong word. Where their intention actually matters. And if they do mess up, that someone will give them the benefit of the doubt, will extend a hand to lift them up and help them get on their way. And we want them to do the same thing for other people.”