largeLast week, my 6 and 3 year olds have been singing annoying songs with repeated “diggity-dog” and butt wiggling. is it from school?? I asked. Oh no, from something on the iPad. Somehow they navigated there from another app I approved. Of course, I don’t know either, because with my head under two pillows, a pinch of drool builds up on the sheets when I force myself to sleep for another 20 minutes.
“Did you know that dolphins sleep half-awake?” my first-year student told me recently after visiting a museum.
If only I were a dolphin.
Fortunately, help is on the way. Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $10 million to the American Academy of Pediatrics to create a National Center of Excellence for Social Media and Mental Health. It’s part of the Biden administration’s strategy to address the alarming national mental health crisis, with a mandate to “develop and disseminate information, guidance and training on the impacts of social media, including risks and benefits,” according to the release. Use risks to children and young people, especially their mental health”.
We adults, dealing with soaring inflation and the collective trauma of years of Covid, have been pushed to a tipping point. The same goes for our children, with more than 40% of teens heartbroken saying they have a persistent sense of sadness or hopelessness. In 2021, amid a raging pandemic, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office released a 53-page advisory arguing that tech platforms are particularly to blame for our children’s weakened mental health, in effect using another public debate. A health crisis replaces a public health crisis.
From my 2 days in the AOL chat room, I learned how social media will become more and more attractive to my children as they approach puberty. Everybody’s sharing photos, everybody’s group chat, let me join. But what exactly is social media use for my first grader, who doesn’t yet have a cell phone, and how does the “let’s screw it up on YouTube” slope slip to a constant sense of hopelessness and desperation?
“Every child has some way of the media supporting them and some way of undermining them,” Dr. Jenny Radsky told me. “If you’re a four-year-old who loves music and your parents can show you the music video for their favorite ‘They Might Be Giants’ video when MTV was really big, that was definitely going into your parents’ world and The perks of dancing together. But it’s not a kid who is performing on YouTube or reading what other people say about them.”
Radesky is the co-director of the new center, and she will focus on the youngest among us. (Her co-director, adolescent specialist Megan Moreno, will handle the older population.) Radesky has been a pediatrician for more than a decade and was part of the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on digital media use in early childhood Lead author and conduct research with very young children, including those who can’t tie their shoelaces, let alone post videos on TikTok.
As I researched books on technology and parenting, she became a rabbi, helping me understand the impact of technology on my babies, toddlers and preschoolers at the time, with empathy and clarity as What it means to be a parent in the digital age, flying from one task to another and doing your best. Of course, it would be great if we could all run free in the Scandinavian forest, picking berries and building a fort out of lingonberry branches, while our equipment sits unloved in rough wooden crates in the attic of. But what about the rest of us?
In Radesky’s view, “social media” is a somewhat outdated term. It used to mean connecting with old friends from college online. Now it’s more of a “big distributed platform” where users can self-publish and self-distribute their own content. Things like YouTube or Facebook certainly fall into this category, but so does Roblox, an online gaming platform that allows players to create and play games created by others. None of these are what the field calls “walled gardens” or “closed systems,” where everything is approved or created by one company.
Depending on the platform, comments and interactions may not be reviewed by actual people at any stage of the process. This is a problem because, driven by “eyes on the screen” and turnout, creators often post the most extreme, outrageous content they can — overly violent, overly sexualized — and increasingly Younger kids are getting involved in it.
Last October, CS Mott Children’s Hospital released a report titled “Sharing Too Fast? Children and Social Media Apps” concluded that about half of 10-12 year olds use social media apps and about one-third of 7-9 year olds use social media apps – despite a law that But the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa), which makes it illegal to collect or store personal information from children under the age of 13. This meant, to my horror, that in just a few months, my first-grade classmates A third of the brave, impressionable explorers who still believe in the Tooth Fairy hang out in these places.
“I was talking to a 10-year-old about a study I did on TikTok, and he’d been posting on it and using it for years,” Radesky told me. “do you think they know how old you are? I asked him (past tense. ‘No.’ But you post your own video“Well, they let me stay, so they must think I’m getting older.” Kids have a natural curiosity about using things that are a little above their age range, but they have Such Access it easily. There is no effective age limit at all now. “
This puts the onus on a parent to monitor what his or her child is doing when they log into one of these platforms, and while our dolphin parents may do well in this regard, for us humans, the odds are high.
The work of the center is noble, arduous, and urgently needed. On Yom Kippur — the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, during which Jews atone for the sins of that year, and fasting is a way of purifying body and spirit — I came across an image that made its mission clear.
I found myself at a ramen shop with another non-observant friend, a synthetic, Muzak-esque version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” playing on a speaker system. As we waited for our steaming bowls of soup and noodles to be served, a mother and son who looked to be around 12 sat next to us ordering. Then the son took out his phone and started browsing different social media sites – a small Facebook, a small TikTok, a small YouTube. Moments later, his mother picked up her phone and started scrolling too — TikTok, Twitter, WhatsApp.
They raised their heads only once and shared a 4-second video that elicited two smirks. Then head down again and pray at Jobs’ altar. I don’t know Adam’s mother. At least the two of them watch social media together, or a little together.
But I do know that no matter how many years ago, when her dewy little son had just blinked into the world, there was no way she could look forward to this dystopian lunch together, side-by-side silently spending time on the luminaries.
“If we’re in a mental health crisis — which we are — and we have some factors that are really hard to change, like our education system, and things that are really easy to change technologically, like algorithms Or code, we should,” Radesky told me. “We should work with tech companies to figure out what settings, what content filters, what guidance can help kids develop healthy relationships with these social sites.”
If only we could fast on the road of redemption.