Social Media….Not!

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Keith McCurdy
Keith McCurdy

I just spent the weekend with a bunch of Boy Scouts and leaders in the Greenbrier Valley, camping and riding the Greenbrier Trail for three days.  The trees were gorgeous, the river was breathtaking, the trail was long and fun, the food was great……and the cell signal was not possible.

In the world of “technology at your fingertips”, we often forget what happens when we go without.  After a long day riding 27 miles on the trail and after a good dinner cooked on a camp stove, a group of teenagers from several different schools, of several different grades, and not of the same peer groups, sat around a campfire for hours….telling stories, laughing, talking, telling some slightly inappropriate jokes, and having a great time.  There was no bullying, no conflict, no Facebook, no Twitter and no technology.  It was a group of developing young men who were engaged with each other.

By contrast, a few weeks ago I happened to be at a horse show with my daughter and several other friends.  At one point another fella and I laughed about there being eight of us sitting in camp chairs in a circle…..all texting and checking our “technology” without a word being said.  At that moment, we couldn’t have been further apart.

Recently there was quite a buzz in the media and many were shocked when word came out that the late Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent.  It appears that one of the men at the forefront of technological development had figured out what most miss today….that technology gets in the way of healthy social and family development.

It is just another area where we have been sold a bill of goods that is flawed.  Even the name “social media” (kind of an oxymoron) seems to indicate that it is part of a normal social life to be engrossed in the world of constant technology connectedness.  And yet, the majority of evidence is to the contrary.

Whether it is a study showing that the more a kid is into video games….the less regard or empathy they have for others, or the more teenage girls utilize Facebook….the more stress they have in their lives.   It is time we acknowledge that our obsession with being “connected” has delayed our development of healthy social and family functioning and brought more stress, anxiety, and conflict into our daily experience.

The bigger issue is that technology on the whole has greatly outpaced our ability to manage it in a healthy manner.   This has never been more true than in the world of social media.  Because we can, we have come to conclude that we should.  Because it is available, we have assumed that it is beneficial. This has led to technology actually getting in the way of healthiness in life.

The family used to be a sacred place.  Once home, the outside world was shut out.  There was respite from a long or even difficult day.  Events and issues were processed through the filter of loving parents and annoying siblings, but there was more peace than in families today.  We could shut stressors off.

Not so today.

Imagine the 14 year old girl who struggles with being the butt of jokes at school only to come home and see those same attacks and worse, put on Facebook and Twitter.  There are comments made on the web that would never get said in person.  Social media has been the basis for many ongoing conflicts and relational battles that later are played out in the school, parking lot, or late at night alone.

Social media has done more to degrade both the individual and family relationships than it has ever done to strengthen them.  And yet, we continue to convince ourselves that texting and tweeting can maintain a healthy relationship with another person.  We claim that Facebook and the like are healthy ways to “stay in contact” with others and yet these obsessions actually take us away from those closest to us.  You see, to invest in things like Facebook, you have to divest in other things.  We do not have an endless supply of time and energy.

We cannot escape the reality that the more exposure our children have to the world of “social media,” the more they are and will be delayed socially and relationally.  The more plugged in our children are to video games and technology, the more conflict there is in the home and the more stressful the life of the child.

I have yet to find a healthy and compelling reason for anyone under the age of 15 to have regular access to social media, smart phones, or video games.  Yes I know that sounds old fashioned, that’s OK.  We often knew a lot more about people when we actually spent time engaging them.

Unplugging your children is a good thing!  We are all healthier without so much technological intrusion.

– Keith McCurdy