With the evolution of social media, the days of sitting and talking around the campfire have become an outdated fossil of communication linked with cave drawings. Instead of children sitting (which is a miracle all itself) in a public restaurant texting, the new trend is to be on the phone Facebooking or Tweeting.
As socializing through social media portals has become more accessible and convenient, so has the risk of children immersing themselves into adult situations prematurely. While more and more cases of online bullying pass through the fluorescent bulbs and teleprompters of the nightly news, serious investigations are underway of whether social media is in fact the devil or whether social connectivity is the new medium that paves the new generation of adolescents’ walk to maturity.
There is legitimate concern with sexting and Internet addiction that has placed social media research on what many call the “danger paradigm,” according to Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston. However, with these dangers, social media cannot simply be blanketed as the force created to corrupt children.
“We should not view social media as either positive or negative, but as essentially neutral,” Rich continued in an interview with The New York Times that brought back memories of attempts in the 1950s to deem rock ’n’ roll as God’s pollution.
As the world gravitates toward an existence where social media plays an important role in business as well as daily interaction, the good doctor has a legitimate point. While there are dangers preached by Lady Gaga of online bullying, these same dangerous resources also allow her anti-bullying campaign to be heard by adolescents who have yet to identify why they hurt and help them reach out to those who can intervene.
The social networks carry the same dangers that come with daily, face-to-face interaction. Instead of the cases where Internet predators stalk youth online, there are cases of children being kidnapped from school.
The only difference is how much air time is spent by news media for each threat. Since social media is new, it takes precedence; it is the medium that is changing how people interact and receive information. Therefore, like early criticisms of cell phone technology, cases of social media abuse and misuse are given more air time.
These same social media that are being crucified as resources to sexualize children are also the same media many school and resident advisers are using to identify depression and signs of abuse. Many doctors and advisers have been watching Facebook carefully, identifying changes of status, photos and postings to find key signs of distress within students’ mental and physical health. In Rich’s closing statements in The New York Times interview, he concluded, “It’s what we do with the tools that decides how they affect us and those around us.”
Technological and social media advancements have the ability to save lives, as done in mid-November in Australia when a man’s life was saved after his wife’s Words With Friends partner in the United States strongly urged the man’s wife to seek medical attention for what turned out to be a 99 percent blockage near his heart. By identifying that social media have this capability, people should be more open to their children’s use of social media. The very media could save their lives.
Mary Gonsiorek is a senior English major from Fort Worth.