In the current digital age, where over 90% of teenagers use social media and 75% have at least one active social media profile by the age of 17, America’s youth are being raised in an unprecedented technology landscape. Never has such a plethora of information on a myriad of topics been so readily available at our fingertips.
This increase of access however has its pitfalls, and many students have replaced their social interactions with digital engagement. A report issued by the Global Web Index revealed that individuals aged 16 to 24 spent an average of about three hours a day using social media; the most popular platform is YouTube with 85% of teenagers utilizing it and Instagram and Snapchat trail behind at 72% and 69% respectively. A Pew Research Study delineated that 45% of teens admit they are online “almost constantly.” Dr. Albano of Columbia University explains how this world of “isolation” due to the “sensation of unreality” gives individuals a “false sense of the way the world really works.” So, while we are preparing our youth to combat the social, economic, political, and technological challenges of our ever-changing world, it leads one to wonder if social media platforms are just taking a step back from progress.
Take Snapchat for example. This past January, the social media platform introduced the ‘Discover’ page, where prominent media partners such as CNN, ESPN, and Vice promote content. To vie for your attention, fighting for clicks, many of these headlines are incredibly controversial and even cover vulgar topics. The pictures above are examples of some of the most extreme stories posted over a mere two days. When young people explain that they are only going to ‘see’ and ‘engage’ with their friends, there is a whole additional page of content provided that is outside of their immediate community. For many of these topics – sexuality, politics, relationships – if you are not discussing these things at home, your children are learning about them elsewhere. This is not a cry to relinquish all social media platforms or to call out and defame Snapchat in particular, but rather to reveal the material that so many parents are unaware their children are being exposed to.