In the modern world we all spend so much time on our personal devices that it’s hard to imagine life without them. When a friend recently suggested a remote country cottage as a Christmas venue and her children’s first reaction was a chorus of “Will there be wifi?”, I laughed. But then, when my own and usually very techie 16 year old suggested that we should all go ‘device free” for Christmas, I confess I came out in a cold sweat!
Social media might provide a speedy way to keep in contact with friends and family we rarely see, but I wonder if it doesn’t also reduce real-time connections. Like others, I’m guilty of thinking that just because I’ve been in touch on Facebook, I don’t need to ring and speak to someone or make the effort to meet up. I’m often surprised by how long it’s been since I actually saw someone in real life!
We all do it...
Although I don’t have much time for social media, I will confess to a slight thrill when I see ‘likes’ on a post and mild disappointment if something is ignored. It’s easy, therefore, to understand how the virtual world of social media can create genuine stress in young people.
Currently, 20% of young people suffer from metal health issues - much of it from anxiety caused by social media. Jane Evans gives an interesting Ted talk about anxiety and has written some excellent books on the subject aimed at very young children. She talks about the potentially negative effects of adrenalin on the body and with it, mental health:
Adrenaline is released by little burst of fear and anxiety which we all feel to some degree when checking our social media posts or playing an online game – for some young people though, the level of anxiety can be extreme. In the modern world young people can be on the end of ‘hate’ messages for up to 24 hours after posting an Instagram picture of themselves. Alternatively (and causing more hurt), they can be totally ignored.
A change for the better...
Many parents, me included, have little idea of what our teenagers actually do on the internet or the effect of the virtual connections they make on their lives. We hear about the dangers of social media, child sexual exploitation or of children bullied online and yet many of us have little idea about how all this actually works and what we can do about it.
Wouldn’t it be great if this Christmas we set the positive example for our children and stayed connected with people rather than devices? One of Nipperbout’s Purple People told me of a five year-old who summed this up when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to be a phone” he said, “so Mum will look at me all the time”.
Recently I came across this prayer. I think it conveys a great state to aim for:
Help us not to waste the minutes and the hours that have been given to us.
Help us to enjoy the common things of everyday life,
To recognise that the ordinary events in our lives make rich patterns.
And help us to see and experience every good moment of every day we have.