And if you don't know, now you know: Teen suicide rate and The Social Dilemma
Social interaction is the defining aspect of humanity. Our brains detect, react, and respond to the social behavior of other humans. We know instinctively that our success is dependent on our ability to collaborate with others and be a member of an 'in-crowd.' Understanding how we engage with others positively and how we become a valuable member of a tribe starts at a young age.
Recently, internet-based technology companies have dramatically altered the human social experience. The world is online and interconnected. New tools allow us to share, comment, like, and engage, whether we seek affirmation, conflict, or are merely browsing. The companies behind these tools are sophisticated. They have neuroscientists and psychologists on staff to develop sophisticated reward systems to drive engagement on their platforms and thereby achieve growth.
Internet-enabled platforms filter adolescents' access to the world. The average student today spends 9 hours per day on media. Facebook. Snapchat. TikTok. Fortnite. Discord. Social media is their social world. Covid-19 has only accelerated adoption, and the trend is not going away. This phenomenon was recently profiled in a Netflix special called The Social Dilemma. Social media can be positive, but left alone the product design can prey on the worst human instincts.
While social media use has surged, there is a health crisis also underway, seen with accelerating rates of teen depression, eating disorders, and anxiety. It's an epidemic of massive proportions. The CDC reported that the suicide rate for persons aged 10–14 nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017 (see figure below). This steady increase coincides with the timing of when social media became more prevalent. Studies have indicated the negative impact of social media on teen mental health.
Social and emotional well-being is often an invisible challenge. It's difficult to measure and particularly complicated to solve. Adults (educators and parents alike) struggle to keep up with the latest tools, apps, and lingo. Adult awareness rarely goes beyond the basics. Most adults seem out of touch and give advice that doesn't stack up with reality. Discussion from parents often feels like a lecture - a list of 'don'ts' instead of advice on what to do.
But not all is lost.
Yes, social media isn't going away. But there are ways to use its power for a positive. It can be taught. It can be learned. Just as there are hacks to make you Indistractable, there are techniques and tools to use social media as a positive social and emotional tool. Stay tuned for that next week...