You’ve probably seen the schmatlzy poem on YouTube going around the Internet lately reminding us all to Look Up. And yes, we should. But the video is breeding a sort of anti-social-media hatred, and I wonder if that’s really warranted.
When the term couch potato was invented, did everyone blame The Muppet Show? No, we blamed the TV. In turn, we shouldn’t really be blaming social media, but instead blaming the phones and computers we access them with.
I’ve seen many responses to the Look Up video along the lines of “I’m never letting my kids get Facebook accounts”, which seems to completely miss the point. For starters, this is all about over-using mobile phones, tablets and laptops. Secondly, if they’re not using Facebook it will just be something else: Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, games. Thirdly, there are some great reasons for teenagers to use Facebook.
1. Kids Are Stuck At Home With No Friends
Have you noticed the trend towards keeping children and teenagers at home? There was once a golden age where kids played outside until the streetlights came on, many kids roamed around on bikes all day and most teenagers lurked in their local hangout places at night. Would this happen today? Not for most people, certainly.
These days, if you considered letting your kids roam you may wind up getting a visit from child services. They probably wouldn’t have anyone to play with out there anyway. And wouldn’t you want your child to have a phone out there so you can contact them?
Kids and most teenagers these days are at home where it’s nice and safe. That’s why, in order to get any sort of social interaction, they now hang out on social media.
2. Your Teenager Wants To Socialise In Private
There’s another side to teenage socialisation, which danah boyd points out in “It’s Complicated” [PDF]: teenagers want to chat to their friends in relative privacy. That is, they don’t want their family to overhear the conversation. Typing away on a phone or computer screen no-one else in the house can see is perfect.
It may seem strange to consider Facebook as private communication, but it really is much the same as hanging out at the mall. It’s public space, so teenagers can try to define themselves within that context, yet the conversations they have are not heard by parents. That’s pretty important to teenagers.
3. Local Friends Aren’t Everything
Just because you were born in a certain year in a certain town, doesn’t mean that the people you see each day in the classroom are destined to be your best friends forever. If you’re lucky, these people are alright and you can have a pretty good relationship. If you’re not so lucky, your lack of friends in classes might make school a miserable place to be.
This is especially the case when kids feel they are different from the local kids. Maybe they’re gay or they look forward to university when no-one else does. Whatever sets them apart, it’s good for them to be able to find like-minded people online, to make them realise that they’re not alone and to give them support. If your child is being bullied at school, these friends they chat to on Facebook might be a lifeline.
Protecting Your Kids & Moderating Use Of Facebook
If you’re a parent worried about how to protect your teenager on Facebook, or about your teenager’s over-use of social media, take the previous points into consideration before you place an outright ban on Facebook use. In my day, we were stuck at home too, so we spent many hours every evening chatting on the phone. Same thing, different medium.
However, you may decide some moderation is in order, in which case check out how to block time-wasting websites using tools like Focus for Mac or smartphone app-blocking controls. Sometimes people just need a gentle reminder to break the addiction cycle and go do something else for a while.
I Forgot My Phone
If you loved “Look Up” and want to see more in the same ilk, check out “I Forgot My Phone“. It’s quite nauseating when you think about it.
Also, check out what some real teenagers think of this video. It’s kind of interesting. Most of them are both guilty of this and wishing it would stop.
There is certainly a lot to be said for getting people to pay attention to the world right in front of them, rather than the one in the device in their hand. But Facebook is by no means the only culprit. What do you think of the “Look Up” situation?