28 May 2024

Confronting social media monster starts with keeping kids from screens

| Ian Bushnell
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boy on laptop

Keeping kids from unsavoury social media content starts with rethinking our pervasive digital culture. Photo: Envato Elements.

Pressure is mounting on governments to do something about the negative impacts of social media on young people, including primary school-aged children.

The great promise of the community town square and connection is now in ashes as Facebook, X and the rest devolve into sewers of misinformation and profanity.

For kids, unfettered access to the web and social media is exposing them to negative and destructive material, such as violent pornography, that distorts their views on sex and relationships and potentially leads to criminal behaviour.

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Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek put the issue on the agenda last week, saying kids as young as 10 were accessing pornography before they even have their first kiss.

She fears increasing rates of sexual violence against girls and women.

Social media impacts on young people’s mental health due to peer pressure, cyberbullying, distorted self-images and fear of missing out (FOMO) have already been well canvassed.

Its addictive aspects are now also well known, and neurologists are warning that digital media affects children’s healthy brain development.

But many believe the genie is out of the bottle and governments legislating to ban children under a certain age from social media sites is doomed.

What is needed are not isolated attempts to stem the digital flood but a wholesale review of digital media in general, especially in schools.

The advent of digital technology has been an unsupervised social experiment, and the evidence is rolling in that unregulated and unfettered access is wreaking havoc on many levels of childhood health.

The magic and wonder of digital tech is overwhelming, and its adoption has been one of the greatest marketing triumphs in the history of modern capitalism.

Modern education is now almost completely dependent on technology, with governments like the ACT providing free laptops to promote equity and classrooms are equipped with electronic whiteboards.

Schools have been dumping textbooks for screens for years, although some, mostly private schools, have gone the other way.

Despite mounting evidence about cognitive overload and the superiority of hard copy materials and writing things down for learning based on how young brains process and retain information, primary school children are being screen-led from an early age.

Add phones, mercifully schools have finally banned them from the classroom, and home tech into the mix, and you have an environment that is digitally pervasive.

How you start instituting bans on social media without addressing the digital sea kids are swimming or drowning in, I don’t know.

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This is not Luddism. We need to understand and critically question technology, especially with the advent of AI.

The digital revolution has been profound and every day I am amazed at the tools it has provided, in my case to source information, write and edit.

But we have been too accepting, too naive to believe all the hype of the digital native as simply another stage in human evolution.

It’s time to pause, take stock and think about what is in children’s best interests, how they best learn, when they should be introduced to digital technology and in what form, and how to manage the ocean of content on the internet they can be exposed to.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on Riotact.

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