Social Studies: The digital world and the toll on our children

Updated: Oct. 23, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Instagram is something you and I use to share pictures and stories of our day. We can create polls and tell people “ask me a question." But some young people, 3 On Your Side has learned, are removing “ask me a question” and typing instead “drop your name for a rating."

A group of Clinton Junior High School 8th graders sat down with us and explained that these ratings are another way to make classmates feel included or excluded.

“It kinda creates some drama really,” student Chloe McHann says about the world of social media.

We’ve all seen it, and perhaps even done it ourselves: spending hours scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, posting pictures, counting the likes, and taking it all too seriously. So imagine the world of some our kids, many of whom wouldn’t recognize life without the small screen.

“In school now, it’s only the negative side, never the positive side,” says student Braden Bullock.

The students say they’ve seen others become obsessed and depressed in the landscape of social media, a situation that now seems quite common across the nation and the world. A study published in September suggests that teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to develop depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behavior.

Hinds County Therapist Calandrea Taylor says, when teens come in for mental health counseling, social media is usually part of the problem

“I ask often about social media, because sometimes, even in sessions, they can’t break away from their phones,” she says.

Taylor adds, before social media, young people could refresh themselves after a bothersome event at school by going home. But today it’s not that easy, since our phones are always just an arm’s length away,

“Now you can’t go home because social media has exceeded boundaries,” Taylor tells us.

But perhaps new boundaries are forming. Right now, some teachers at Clinton Junior High are fighting back.

“We wanted to change the narrative of social media,” says English Teacher Jill Penick.

Penick tells us about a current assignment for 8th graders which might be forcing some negative social media posts to the sidelines, as students work to impress each other with posts that highlight random acts of kindness.

The lesson is based on the book Stargirl, about a girl who is not accepted at school but is finally noticed for her kind deeds.

Teachers at Clinton Jr. High School are using the book "Stargirl" to teach about random acts of...
Teachers at Clinton Jr. High School are using the book "Stargirl" to teach about random acts of kindness.(WLBT)

As they read, students have a requirement.

“They perform four random acts of kindness, and then if they can get a picture, they uploaded it into Instagram with the hashtag #stargirlkindness,” says Penick.

A student uploads a "stargirlkindness" picture of a good deed.
A student uploads a "stargirlkindness" picture of a good deed.(Clinton Jr. High School)

The 8th graders are having fun with it, and coming up with their own ideas for acts of kindness, with teachers, family members, and even strangers.

Beyond the good deeds, some of the students unplugged for the summer, giving up social media altogether for a few weeks or months, and said it was hard, but worth it.

When I came back I felt really good, felt really happy, felt more positive than I was beforehand," Bullock tells us.

A student uploads a "stargirlkindness" picture of a good deed.
A student uploads a "stargirlkindness" picture of a good deed.(Clinton Jr. High School)

Taylor says when teens unplug the phone, they can suddenly plug into themselves.

“The more that I know about myself the better I can be in a social media environment and handle some of the things coming at me every day,” she adds.

Here is the conclusion reached in the JAMA Network study on social media use among young people: Adolescents who spend more than 3 hours per day using social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, particularly internalizing problems. Future research should determine whether setting limits on daily social media use, increasing media literacy, and redesigning social media platforms are effective means of reducing the burden of mental health problems in this population.

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