Inspiration for this blog post came while I was at dinner at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. After dinner, as usual the adults, in an attempt to catch up with everything since they had last seen each other, began discussing the previous weeks events. It wasn’t until my aunt began to tell the story of how my teenage cousin managed to get her iPad confiscated, that I started paying attention.
The incident had occurred about a month ago and it was all over her use of the lip syncing app, Musical.ly. The app allows you to record yourself lip-syncing to your favourite songs or catchphrases and then you post it onto your account. My cousin and her friend had taken it upon themselves to star in their own lip-syncing show, recording themselves singing along to various songs and posting it on her account. I’m not sure (because i have never used the app myself) whether you have the option to make your account private or not, but either way whether she had chosen to or not, her public account had become very active and she had even gotten herself a significant amount of followers.
When my Aunt and Uncle found out they were livid. firstly because she had been warned not to use the app and secondly because they were concerned that lingering amongst her hundreds of followers could be ‘some kind of Paedophile’.
All this conversation was very interesting to me because I never really had to go through any of this as a child. By the time social media sites such as Facebook came out back home, I was already 16 and therefore didn’t really have much objection from my parents about my use of social media. They assumed I was old enough to negotiate between right and wrong when it came to what I was posting and who I was talking to. Also, back then, all these social media apps were pretty new and no one really considered the impact of things like digital footprints (which is probably why i’m still deleting old Facebook posts!)
For my little cousin however, things are very different. She was born into a world where use of technology and social media is the norm. The world in which she lives in is one where children would rather spend their time indoors online rather than go outside and play. The fact that her iPad was confiscated didn’t even really bother her that much since she was still able to use the one that was provided to her by her school.
Social media is used by young people as a platform for them to express themselves and share their lives with each other. This understandably creates concern because the fact that teenagers upload and share pictures and videos of themselves on social media “is considered unhealthy because children and teens are still developing cognitively, socially and emotionally and therefore lack sufficient maturity to fully understand and consent to the sexual material they are both producing via social media and exposed to through the wider media sphere” (Gabriel, 2014, pp. 105). The Facebook memories that appear on my timeline everyday are a painful reminder that I too was once sharing my social life online with absolutely no second thought towards how it would affect my future.
Teenagers share material that they believe will get them the most attention in their friends circle (like a video dancing around and lip-syncing to a popular song in my cousins case) but what they fail to understand is that once a picture or video is uploaded on to the internet, it becomes difficult to control (especially if your pages are public) who has access to it. The “immediate rewards- like receiving attention and admiration and achieving a sense of belonging- rate higher in teens minds than the risk of a future employer uncovering their unsavoury images during a routine background check.” (Gabriel, 2014, pp. 105). I see this a lot even on my own social media where a significant amount of my friends on Facebook have begun altering their names so that potential employers won’t be able to find them. The question comes to mind whether if they thought that their profiles represented themselves in a bad light, whether they should have uploaded these images or videos in the first place.
The reaction that my Aunt and Uncle had to confiscate and restrict my cousins use of technology is actually quite a common reaction, where adults attempt to control young people’s social media use by preventing them from accessing the sites in the first place. They do this because they believe that it will eliminate the risks all together. It can be said that “restriction is necessary because teens brains are not mature; they are still developing emotionally and should be protected from the dangers of the online world.” (Gabriel, 2014, pp. 107). But his didn’t necessarily limit her media use because her school had provided her with a iPad, which shows that technology is being used more and more by schools to enhance rather than stunt education of young people.
At the same time however, i cant help but wonder whether the younger generation today is much more internet savvy due to the simple fact that they are born into a society where people are already so aware of their online identities in the first place. As a result of this it seems that “young people are representing their own coming of age process, negotiating identities, sexualities and friendships, and making moral and ethical decisions regarding their online conduct” (Gabriel, 2014, pp. 108) all on their own. Even though it seems that teenagers are almost breaking the rules by engaging so fiercely in social media, in truth maybe the growth of technology and digital media has redefined what it means to be young in society today. Before the days that social media became increasingly popular, it was almost expected that young people would make mistakes and this was all summarised as a process of growing up. In this way, teenagers sharing their lives on social media are too in a sense, learning as they go and as a result “social media engagement in fact becomes a function of adulthood” (Gabriel, 2014, pp. 109).
The issue of teens and social media use, I feel, will always be a topic that will be aggressively debated. While there are many legitimate concerns with the increasing amounts of young people sharing their lives on social media, it is also important to see that in today’s society, where digital technology has become a significant part of our lives, it is only natural that young people too are embracing these technologies and integrating it into their everyday lives.
There are also a number of websites such as ‘ThinkUknow‘ and ‘Cyber Safety Solutions‘ that attempt to educate both young people and adults of the issues that can arise with social media, which as a result serves as a tool for a better way of dealing with the issues overall.
- Gabriel, F 2014, ‘Sexting, selfies and self-harm: young people, social media and the performance of self-development’, Media International Australia, no. 151, pp. 104-12