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The Digital Dilemma: The Impact of Social Media & Screen Usage on Our Youth

Updated: May 8, 2021

An alarming new report was recently released by the Gonski Institute for Education called Growing up digital in Australia that is designed to change the status quo and understand the widespread impact of social media on our children. Build on research methodology from Harvard Medical School the Gonski report offers some insights into the challenges ahead for children, educators and parents. 1876 teachers and principals across Australia were involved in this survey.

Key facts:

  • 98% of educators see a decrease in students’ ability to focus on educational tasks,

  • 80% see a decline in students’ empathy

  • 60% see a decline in physical activity

  • More than 9 out of 10 teachers believe that children's social, psychological and behavioural challenges have increased.

  • 84% believe digital technologies are a growing distraction in the learning environment.

  • 59% of respondents observed a decline in students’ overall readiness to learn in the last 3–5 years.

  • 3 out 5 (69%) of educators believe their has been a drastic decline in students readiness to learn over the past 3-5 years.

  • 81% of teachers said their has been an increase in online harassment and bullying

Teachers say it is clear that the time children spend both in and out of school on digital technologies is having a significant impact not only on their brains, minds and bodies, but also how they experience the world around them.

This blog is somewhat of a follow up on my first blog covering issues with social media and our children outlined in the film The Social Dilemma you can read the blog I wrote as a concerned parent here in an attempt to review the film that brought the technology issues and many of the industry experts who helped create it to the mainstream.

Last week I listened to a great Podcast called "Are our kids alright" with Jonathon Haidt; a highly reputable social psychologist based in the USA. Jonathon explains we're now in the middle of a teen mental health crisis. How many children do you know struggling with attention, mental health challenges or social challenges? Since 2011, the rate of U.S. hospitalisations for preteen girls who have self-harmed is up 189 percent, and with older teen girls, it’s up 62 percent. Tragically, the numbers on suicides are similar — 151 percent higher for preteen girls, and 70 percent higher for older teen girls. Jonathon has been trying to figure out why and believes social media is to blame and has been gathering research data to investigate. He discovered a strong correlation with the increase of mental health challenges in our youth with sharp rise in social media's usage. He also discusses the power over the population these tech giants have and suggests some ways we can respond and take back responsibility for our youth.

If you have seen the film The Social Dilemma or The Great Hack you might already be concerned about social media's threat to democracy let alone it's harmful effect on our children. You might strongly agree that correlation and causation while difficult to prove is becoming increasingly obvious and we simply can't afford to ignore the problem while waiting for conclusive results in research. We can't ignore that social media technology giants like Tik Tok, Snap Chat and Instagram or the next big thing continuously fine-tunes it's manipulative and addictive features to pull teens in, commodify their attention and grow more powerful and wealthy on the exploitation of our kids attention while socially engineering their decline in mental health and wellbeing.

Listen to the experts in technology who helped build these devices and have an inside view as well as the growing voices of experts on child mental health and wellbeing around the world. We can continue to invest massive amounts of time, money and effort in working with trying to improve individual youth mental health, wellbeing and learning with education, interventions, medications and reactive measures but it seems like an up hill battle if we are not going to address the massive elephant in the room and work together as a collective to take positive action to improve it. Adults need to be responsible to put measures in place that are going to be sustainable.

In our home we focus on connection with each other, we limit wifi use and discuss these matters acutely aware of the social pressures to keep the status quo. It isn't easy because despite knowing the manipulation and addiction that is happening with social media use it's like telling a child heroin addict the drug is harmful. While the platforms exist and our governments continue to allow children to be manipulated we can only focus on educating ourselves and staying connected to our children to help them get better at making informed choices and manage their usage and stay aware of their mental health and wellbeing.

I've made the kids watch and discuss The Social Dilemma and will ask them to have a go of this new Interactive Documentary released on SBS on demand last week, Are You Addicted to Technology? a world first and aims to provide a personalised investigation into the user’s own tech dependency through an interactive questionnaire built into the program.

My hope is in the future the technology industry is heavily regulated and advertising to children under 18 is outlawed, with the possibility of rendering 1/3 of social media's users (our children) protected from manipulation and the harmful impact. This will require adults to actually adult and be responsible for the world they have created.


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