Honestly, as we were listening to the debate and the ensuing discussion, I just kept thinking about how I am so thankful I did not have a phone when I was a child or a teen. I got my first phone in university (yay T9!) and it was pretty exciting. As a person who is not inherently self disciplined, I think a smartphone would have been a disaster for me in high school. The combination of constant streaming and instant communication between groups of people would have been full blown stress. As a person, as well, who experienced FOMO for most of my life (40 was incredibly liberating as all of sudden nothing mattered), access to constant things other people were doing that I was not would have been just awful.
However, beyond the simple ways a phone would have been terrible for me as a teen or pre-teen, I think it’s worse now, as pre-teens and teens are growing up with technology, and more specifically, with social media as a constant and as a norm.
In one of the articles Alec shared BBC writer Sean Coughlan identifies that some mom groups are suggesting childhood now ends at twelve. While this seems bananas to me, it also rings true. I joined TikTok in the summer and quickly became moderately addicted to the non-stop short video format catering to literally any interest. While my TikTok exploration has been enjoyable (who doesn’t like 3 minute videos on food preservation and homesteading?), it’s also highlighted just how young content creators are, and the extent to which these children are sexualised. For example, I love watching dance videos, or TikTok dance trends. One recent trend was set to Meghan Trainor’s song, “Made You Look.”
I love this song, and I love Trainor’s music – her songs are so catchy, so fun, and perfect to dance to! But, what I noticed was that it wasn’t just teenagers and adults that were trying out this dance trend. It also became popular with pre-teens and even smaller children. And I think because the music is so catchy, and because “everyone was doing it,” lots of people didn’t really think anything of these young kids following this dance trend.
As I came across lots of videos of younger kids dancing to the same song, I didn’t really think too much about it at first — it just seems cute when young kids dance. In fact, I even thought it would be fun to recreate with one of our BAC classes. But then I spent a bit more time listening to the lyrics, and I couldn’t help but cringe. Who wants to see their teacher or students dance to these lyrics:
I could have my Gucci on (Gucci on)
I could wear my Louis Vuitton
But even with nothin’ on
Bet I made you look (I made you look)
Yeah, I look good in my Versace dress (take it off)
But I’m hotter when my morning hair’s a mess
‘Cause even with my hoodie on
Bet I made you look (I made you look)
So, yeah, the song is super fun to dance to and it’s very catchy, but it’s also about getting naked, and being looked at. Even the dance moves themselves are inherently sexual, even if they are not performed in overtly sexualized style. The comments in the video would indicate nothing is amiss: “Beautiful daughter!” (although that rings creepy) — “So fun!” — “Slayyy!”. And I know that these content creators are not intentionally trying to sexualize anything, but that’s the effect of social media, of technology, on these kids. I even feel a bit uncomfortable posting the links to these videos, even though they are all simply made in the vein of replicating a trend. But when did it become “normal” for kids to dance like this? When did ten year olds thrusting become a thing — become a “normal” thing? When did it become okay to dance to songs that, lyrically, are sexual?
And I think that’s the impact of technology – social media in particular here – on kids. Actually, on kids and adults. This kind of thing has become so normalized, so a part of our daily exposure, that we often don’t even think twice about what we see. These concepts are reiterated in the Ted Talk that Valeska and Bart shared. I couldn’t help but think of some of these young content creators as I listened to Sebastián Bortnik discuss the concept of grooming, and identify the changes in relationship between adults and children. What may start as something intentionally innocent can so quickly devolve as how these images are used is so beyond the creator’s control.
This then got me thinking about other creators that use trends and vlog style accounts that ultimately monetize their children. I was watching this TikTok about a child who has been monetized. I thought this observation, written by a child to parents considering a family based social media account, was particularly insightful: “Any money you get will be greatly overshadowed by years of suffering and very hard work … to keep up with trends and with media, and if you do manage to do it, your child will never be normal. You will be their boss and they will be your employer, which is a horrible relationship to have with your kid.” Ouch. Wow. I have enjoyed watching these family types of vlogs – oftentimes these experiences are so different from my own! But, I never really considered the pressure these types of activities put on the kids.
I know it’s not all bad. I know some of these social media accounts have lead to extraordinary opportunities for these families and for their kids. But, as the Evie article Valeska and Bart shard states, “we’re currently running ‘the greatest psychological experiment we’ve ever run on humanity’ — and kids are the guinea pigs.” That is scary — so scary!! The same article explains that “nowadays, 12% of children first use a phone between the ages of 1 to 2 years old, and most children now own their own phone before age 7.” With that kind of immersion in a world of technology, combined with the lure of money and fame that appear to be readily accessible and easy to generate, it’s really troubling to consider what the long term ramifications of this psychological experiment will be. I don’t know if technology, generally, is ruining childhood, but I can say for sure that I think social media might be…
Maybe we should just go outside.
3 thoughts on “Is technology ruining childhood?”
Maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s a connection and a message/lesson in being outside that we are purposely being removed from. Being isolated by technology kind of makes you a programmable robot.
LikeLiked by 1 person
i like your line of thinking here, and I do agree with the negative aspects of phones, social media and screen time – it really does a lot of harm. I don’t allow my sons (16 & 9) on any social media at all – i think those platforms are for adults. The hyper-sexualized exploitation of children (both boys & girls) on these sites is truly disgusting to me. I was a victim of exploitation and manipulation as a young girl and so I have first hand knowledge of the trauma and stress caused when children are forced to ‘grow up’ too fast – (to say it in a “nice way”). And so, I made a promise to myself, that my children would be allowed to be innocent and protected until they are mature enough to make responsible decisions. I spend a lot of time speaking to (especially my older son) them about the importance of discernment, personal responsibility and self respect because the mainstream is so caught up with superficial instant gratification and chasing money that I know if I leave them to learn to swim for themselves, they will be caught in the tide and lost to me.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the impact of technology and social media on children and teenagers. Your perspective as someone who didn’t have a phone until university is interesting, and I agree that constant streaming and instant communication can be stressful for young people. It’s alarming to think about how pre-teens and teens are growing up with technology and social media as the norm, and the potential harm that can come from it. The example you gave about children dancing to a song with sexual lyrics is concerning, and I agree that social media has normalized these kinds of behaviors. It’s important to be mindful of the impact of what we see and share on social media, especially when it comes to children.