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How Social Media Undermines Your Kid's Growth

Years ago, our son, now technically an adult, turned his smartphone on after we took it away from him for a month as a consequence of some repeated infraction. At the kitchen table, over a bowl of cereal, we both stared at each other in a mixture of shock and awe as thousands of notifications came through his iPhone with buzzes and beeps. The phone took nearly ten minutes to process all the missed texts. Upon which he looked me straight in the eye and said, “My generation…is doomed.” Wiser words have never been spoken.

 

(Teaser: we have a survey at the bottom of this article for you to fill out about your tech concerns for your kids)

 

Looking back, we regret giving it to him when we did. I should’ve snatched it back, turned it off, and handed him a flip phone. I’ve now learned that my regret is something that many other parents are also waking up to.

 

But it’s not technology that poses a threat per se, and we will likely be unable to avoid it. In the most recent headlines, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy announced he intends to urge Congress to require a warning label be added to all social media for its now-proven negative impact on the mental health of our nation's youth. 

 

Yes, social media compromises their sleep, it can facilitate cyberbullying, and yes, social media exposes kids to potentially harmful content. From my perspective, though, those are the smaller concerns. What concerns me more is the larger narrative social media teaches kids about how life works. 

 

Here’s the summary: Social media distorts reality and threatens to undermine everything you hope for regarding your kids' future well-being. 

 

Social media offers distinct invitations to build a life based on one of three fallacies. Without proper discernment, consistent consumption of social media will persuade your kids that their lives will be better and more complete if they:

  1. Accumulate more resources
  2. Accomplish more for their resume
  3. Impress others to improve their reputation

 

Whether it’s luxurious trips with a group of friends highlighted on Instagram, college acceptance videos posted to YouTube, or job status updates on LinkedIn, no matter where your kids go on social media, they’ll be sure to be lured by these fallacies. 

 

But wisdom throughout the ages (as well as proven research) has revealed those theories to be a setup for a bad life.

 

After more than two decades mentoring and researching young adults, as well as being a dad of three, I’m convinced everyone needs: a well-grounded identity, an authentic community to belong to, and the opportunity to be effective towards a life mission. Each one of those psychological needs is discovered through life experience, intentional reflection, and healthy role models. They are slow-cooking considerations, not microwave junk food. 

 

Social media offers a shortcut to all three: a chance to use filters and a curated perspective to show off the highlights of your social life, post your job status updates for your career advances, and gain superficial acceptance through likes and follows. However, it will never satisfy or yield deep fulfillment or lasting success. 

 

As parents and mentors to emerging adults, we need to learn to see social media for what it really is, a distortion and distraction, and help the kids we care about reflect on what’s really true. We need to learn to say over and again:

 

“The value of your life is more than your resources, or lack thereof. Your resume doesn’t paint an accurate picture of your real potential. And regardless of your reputation, you are a unique person worthy of knowing.”

 

The YouSchool was born the same year that the majority of teens first owned a smartphone, coinciding with the advent of front-facing cameras and algorithms that celebrate and reinforce superficial living. We’ve grown up together. We’ve seen the effects of social media, and I started to say in 2015, “We know this is going to harm our kids; we just don’t know in what ways yet.” But now, thanks to the thoughtful research of Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Jonathan Haidt, we have sober data to reflect on. 

 

It’s time to put up our dukes and take a stand. After years of consideration and months of intense research and development, we will soon launch a unique course for parents called Tech Healthy Parenting. In it, we will not only summarize the most relevant data for you but also offer guided exercises and scripts for the critical conversations parents must have with their kids. 

 

Before we share more details, we want to hear from you. We have a short feedback survey (3-5 minutes) for parents to better understand what drives their concerns and their perspective. 

 

We are on a mission to help millions of parents confidently guide and coach their children to thrive as adults. It’s time to think more critically about social media's impact and create a new pathway for parents to consciously guide their kids to be self-aware, self-confident, and self-directed. 

 

P.S. If you’re a parent, please participate in this short survey and share it with parents you know and respect. 

 

For the sake of kids,

Scott Schimmel
President & Chief Guide | The YouSchool
 

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For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

They're uncommon sense ideas, really.

Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).

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