Are our children being affected negatively by the online and social media presence in their lives? Due to the technological age we find ourselves in, it is all the more important to remember what true connection looks like. Through person-to-person contact we can avoid loneliness and feelings of isolation.
The other day it was brought to my attention how different things are for young people today versus when I was their age. I witnessed my teenage daughter’s heart break a little when she was not invited to a friend’s get together one evening. There were no valid reasons provided, except that the friend hosting did not want my daughter receiving any attention from the others who were invited. Although we had a nice and “hyggelig” evening together at home, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at the exclusive behavior of my daughter’s friends, and it troubled me that not a single one spoke up to put a stop to this unfair treatment.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new in young people acting this way, however in the more superficial way of living we find ourselves in, it seems more brutal now than when I was that age. The difference is that children today are constantly spammed with snaps and streaks from those they are not physically with, where as in the eighties we weren’t aware of what everyone else was up to at all times. Today, young people are constantly updated and reminded of what they are not a part of.
Missing out on Meaning
Children and young people today are woven into a “friend-shopping” and “easy-to-pretend–easy-to-hide” culture, which is thriving off of the increasing interest and easy accessibility to an online life. A platform, which helps provide a vital lifeline for many of us, especially people unable to physically socialize as much as they would like to. With an online presence it is easy to add and subtract friends, making it far too simple to get away with shallow communication and relationships. Social media and online interactions have become the most common digital venues for meeting friends, and only 25% of teenagers actually spend physical time with friends in person outside of school on a daily basis. When I was a teenager, it was the opposite.
I think that the effect of this widespread online culture is much more worrying than we might like to fully acknowledge. I believe that having a sense of connection deeply rooted in your inner being improves the quality of our lives, and the rapid growth of our technological presence is resulting in us missing out on this. Call me old school, but although adding “friends” online might seem real and meaningful to many, it causes nothing but alarm for me.
Our Wake-Up Call
When I witness children acting the way my daughter’s friends did, it worries me greatly. I am afraid that the younger generations will continue to integrate the harsh tendencies of their online social lives into their real lives. I know that many will argue that online life is another form of reality, and although I understand their perspective, I do not agree. Recently, I watched an American television program called “Catfish.” In this series, each episode looks into the lives of people who create fake online personas, posing as another person by stealing their identity. These people, or “catfish” as they are referred to, aim to fool innocent and oblivious people into falling in love with them. The plot of the series explores whether or not the virtual relationship holds legitimacy, or whether or not they are dealing with a “catfish.” I found this program quite interesting, as it brought to light one of my main concerns.
In instances where we fail to meet someone in person, and only interact electronically, we can find ourselves transforming into something or someone we view as more ideal, better for our self-worth and therefore better for our lives. It seems as though such behavior is perceived as less serious seeing as there is no confrontation and it is easier to hide behind a screen.
People who search for love, acknowledgement and connection electronically may often have difficulties with their own self-confidence. They might feel invisible, misunderstood or isolated somehow in their actual lives, resulting in their actions online. However, their starting points are often rooted in anger, envy, repression, hate or sadness instead of love and kindness. This type of unstable foundation can prove to be problematic.
Reputation at Risk
The experience my daughter had last week made me wonder if we have the tendency to ignore something important. How easily her friends “forgot” to answer her requests and leave her out of the event, while still posting snaps for her to see firsthand how much fun they were having made me realize how difficult it must be to navigate your way through a world that has become so technologically inclined. As much as it pains me to see my daughter hurting, I know that she will learn from this experience, and I will continue to support her through times like these. However, I feel deeply sorry for the friend who decided to exclude her.
Children and teenagers have learned that it is better to stay close to the crowd than challenge those who are in charge. They have learned that it is a matter of time, or one wrong move before they become the one who is left out. It appears that no one dares to fight for good manners and proper behavior anymore; there is simply too much at stake.
How Can We Help?
Children need to come together face to face with those around them. There is something about person-to-person interaction that is generally better for our well-being; impacting us and our children in positive ways. Hanging out with healthy people increases the likelihood of health. We become better people. Meeting with friends connects and commits us on a deeper level. It holds us accountable and makes it harder to dispose of friends as you might do online. It creates a feeling of worthiness and belonging.
I love my daughter for her honesty and for her openness. I have taught her that when people don’t treat her or others well, their behavior should be seen as a cry for help. Situations like these can pose as a good reminder that online life is here to stay, so let us teach our children that it mustn't be a substitute for true and meaningful connection. We are responsible for teaching them to carry the appropriate and respectful behavior they have learnt in the real world over to their online world. Not the opposite. If we can do that, there is hope.