Technology has had a revolutionary effect on society, whether through the industrial revolution, the advent of the Internet, or the smart phone. Each generation has had to evolve to incorporate these changes into their every day lives. Generation Z and Generation X specifically have spent the majority of their lives growing up with the Internet and smart phones. Generation Z, who were born into a world of pervasive technology use, will be the first test group to fully understand long-term of effects of technology socially and psychologically. How many hours should children use technology each day? What age should they begin using smart phones at? The novelty of this technology provides many challenges in understanding the impact on users. This research paper will analyze the impact of social media, smart phones and the post-modern family dynamic on children’s development.
In a study done by Kaiser for individuals between 8 and 18, they determined that, “Over the past five years, young people have increased the amount of time they spend consuming media by an hour and seventeen minutes daily, from 6:21 to 7:38—almost the amount of time most adults spend at work each day” (The Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010). Taglines, statistics, and headlines like these have circulated since the technological revolution began, but there is much less concrete evidence of the effect that technology usage has on developing children.
Social media, technology usage, smart phones and Internet access present a complex set of issues for children and parents alike. Technology has also played a crucial role in the creation of a post-modern family dynamic, which also impacts the environment children grow up in. The central argument is an analysis of the interwoven relationship between the impact of technology on children, how technology has transformed the post-modern family, and the impact of both the post-modern family and technology on children.
Social Media & Generation X
A generation forming a dual identity… online and offline
Scenario 1: Patricia checks Facebook to realize her friend has tagged her in a picture with her openly holding alcohol. Patricia’s parents are unaware that she drinks but they also use Facebook. She quickly instructs her friend to remove the picture.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat – these are all readily accessible platforms to the youth of today. Yet these platforms are also readily accessible to college professors, family members and recruiters. This hidden audience is not always perceived, even though personal information of the online community is openly available. Forming a modern day identity through both in-person contact and social media presence can be a daunting task while balancing the overwhelming accessibility, but also ubiquitous usage of social media.
Joshua Meyrowitz coined the term “disconnected contexts,” which describes the conflicting situation above. However, this concept has existed for years mostly regarding large public figures who make their opinions openly known to their audiences. They can tailor their responses based on whom they are directly targeting. Only recently has this become a larger issue faced by conflicting interest groups on social media (Danah Boyd, its complicated). In Danah Boyd’s book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, she expresses the difficulties of children and teenagers navigating a social media world – completely different than navigating this situation in person. Social situations are most often defined by their context – without this context it is difficult for onlookers to judge an online conversation. What’s the most difficult here is defining private and public audiences, and whom these situations are meant for. The developing identity of social media users also depends on this distinction. For young children, it is not only difficult to understand the entire impact of a social media presence, but their identity may not even be concretely shaped yet – in fact they may not yet know what they want the world to know about them. Unfortunately, social media creates a permanent online footprint.
As private becomes public, what should we be aware of?
As the private sphere of addresses, names, and other personal information are made available the online world poses a safety threat – especially to young children. The Internet creates a virtual playground of extremely diverse people from around the world. These cross-cultural and long distance interactions create exciting new possibilities, but also exist as a source of anxiety for parents trying to control who their children interact with.
Danah Boyd discussed the example of Kiki Kannibal, who, “In order to find a community of like-minded souls, she turned to the internet, where she developed a digital persona whom she called Kiki Kannibal” (Danah Boyd, its complicated). Within this digital community, she found Danny Cespedes. They began chatting online and eventually dated. However, after a forced sexual encounter, she eventually discovered that, “Danny had dated a series of girls aged thirteen to fifteen, many of whom had had similar forced sexual encounters with him” (Danah Boyd, its complicated). While this is an extreme example not representative of the risks of all social media, it provides a case study to understand the threats of translating a virtual relationship into an in-person relationship.
Through the online portal Kiki used, she was able to create a fake digital persona. With this lie as the foundation, the primary goal is to step away from ones identity. Here also exists the danger behind the situation, as there is no way of knowing when someone is lying about his or her age and background when met in person. For Kiki, she believed she was in love with Danny, and this allowed trust to develop between them. It is easy to idealize this constructed reality of a virtual world, where people can build their personas as they see fit.
A generation addicted to social media
Social media (insert word here) addiction, craze, revolution, whatever you’d like to call it, has the investment of an immense group of individuals and gains more participants each year. For teens and adults alike, phones have become an integral part of each day. In an interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” summer camp directors express qualms about the complete removal of phones from their camps. They describe the experience as a detox, but the cell phone phantom limb continues to plague their campers. One of the camp directors Stephen Gray Wallace explained, “camps like his have been tweaking their rules; trying to find the right balance for these gen–tech kids who never unplug” (Smith, 2016). Some responses from the campers who were forced to go cell-phone free are also startling. As one of the girls, Aggie Chamlin, explained, “I think a cell phone’s a virtual wall that you put up for yourself” (Smith, 2016). Brooke Hackel also expressed her opinions on social media, “I feel like social media stresses me out a lot […] And so not being able to have [the phone] prevents it completely” (Smith, 2016). Without internet access or a cell-phone present, many of the campers expressed joy at being able to appreciate their surroundings. Consuming the world of social media – the world of everyone else – provides an extremely addicting distraction for teens on the daily.
Why is it so difficult to stop using phones and social media? A project called Network Effect, created by Jonathan Harris and Greg Hochmuth encapsulates the social media psychological rollercoaster into about seven minutes of time. There are thousands of clips loaded onto this website, but users are only permitted these seven minutes to view content which, “triggers a fear of missing out, and totally frustrates any attempt at completeness” (Harris & Hochmuth).
Their goal is to create a greater self-awareness of the quantity of useless content consumed on an every day basis, and limit time spent on the Internet. Because the site no longer allows the user to view their content compilations after the brief period of time, it’s meant to create an understanding for the anxiety of a constant desire to check social media. Specifically the action of clicking in itself acts as positive reinforcement, to encourage the user to find a new world of exciting content. The platform is constructed to feel like a virtual reality experience. The eerie music, mind numbing images and videos are meant to be disorienting. Harris and Hochmuth also emphasize a loss of identity in this process, “we hope to find ourselves, but instead we forget who we are, falling into an opium haze of addiction with every click and tap” (Harris & Hochmuth).
What exactly about social media makes it addicting? In the article “Social media addiction is a bigger problem than you think,” the author Mike Elgan details the methods companies utilize to make social media platforms more addicting. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all utilize notifications and a notification number to further attract people into opening the platform multiple times a day. Elgan describes this as, “[they use] the same psychological trick on you that clickbait headlines do — they tell you that there’s information you really want to know, but they don’t tell you enough to satisfy” (Elgan, 2015). Beyond the layout of each platform however, exists a more fundamental human need, which these companies tap into – the need to feel like a part of a community. The network effect feeds off of the human need to fit into their network. As the network grows and more people become integrated, individuals feel a greater need to continue participating.
Does multitasking inhibit our ability to learn?
The dependence on phone usage can be crippling at times, and prevents continuous focus on a singular task. This concept of multitasking efficiently is a popular one, but often a misconception. With easy accessibility to a phone, media, and television, understanding the effect of multitasking on the brain is important to the next generation. Based on a study done by the American Psychological Association, switching tasks depends on two concepts: goal shifting and rule activation. Together, these describe the process of making a decision to move to a new task and switch cognitive attention between the two tasks (Smith, 2001). To complete this process, and revert back to the previous task at hand, a lot of time is wasted. Cognitive control in media multitaskers was a study published by Stanford University specifically targeted at understanding the effects of media multitasking on cognition. Splitting up individuals between groups of chronically heavy and light multitaskers, they compared the impact of media stimuli on memory. In their conclusions, they explained that, “These results suggest that heavy media multitaskers are distracted by the multiple streams of media they are consuming, or, alternatively, that those who infrequently multitask are more effective at volitionally allocating their attention in the face of distractions” (Ophir, 2009).
While no cause and effect between these can directly be assumed, the ability to learn while multitasking takes huge cognitive demand and causes distraction, not allowing the individuals to fully grasp complex tasks.
The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a widespread study in 2010 called, “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-year old,” which went through currently available forms of technology such as television, computers and video games and analyzed their impact on various parameters. When grouped into categories of heavy, light and moderate media usage it was found that, “Nearly half (47%) of all heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly C’s or lower), compared to 23% of light media users” (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010). With the integration of iPad’s and computers into many elementary school classrooms, this could be a huge issue for the learning potential of future generations.
The Post-Modern Family
Beyond the influence of social media, phone usage and modern technology on children and teens, family dynamics are equally if not more important in the development of a growing child. The post-modern family structure and technology play an interconnected role in identity formation.
A brief history of the post-modern family
In comparison to the pre- World War II society, the middle class family dynamic has changed dramatically. This stark difference is largely due to the cultural atmosphere cultivated during the war. Due to a massive outpouring of men’s labor from America to the warfront, the industry in America could not keep up with the amount of supplies required. Women were therefore encouraged to enter the workforce “Widening their horizons, many women were now working full time and yet were still trying to maintain their home life” (“The American Family in World War II”). With archetypes surfacing such as “Rosie the Riveter,” society propelled the progress of the workingwoman. This inherently had an effect on family dynamics, especially in one-parent households, where women began to work and children had to adjust to a more self-driven upbringing. However, surprisingly the post-war environment brought about the baby-boomer generation with women having children at younger ages than the previous generation and the concept of a “traditional family” was established (“Post War Life and the Baby Boomers”).
However, the 1950’s also began “Post-modernism.” One key transition from the modern to post-modern family was a large shift to dual income families, where both parents worked. A pivot away from the common social forces that once propelled marriage, such as the need for advantageous marriages by income source, also caused divorce rates to skyrocket. The media has also played a huge role in shaping the opinions of a postmodern world, as families gain access to more resources through the Internet as opposed to neighbors and direct community (“The post-modern family”). This shift has had an impact on the entire family, and the idealization of what a modern family dynamic should be.
Post-modern lifestyle and family structure has had many implications on family dynamics, especially in the desire to prolong pregnancy. For example according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, “The average age of a mother giving birth to her first child was 26 in 2013 […] that includes plenty of women over 35 and even some over 40. A total of 677 women over 50 gave birth in 2013, more than ever before” (Kincaid, 2015). This desire has had a profound impact on family structure socially, with older parents having children, as well as a surge of technological developments to help families prevent childbirth. Ethically, this has also caused an internal dilemma in a new generation of women who want to pursue their career but also want a family.
A diverging family structure
The attachment between a parent and child is one of the most secure and long lasting connections that some individuals will build throughout their entire lives. It is the foundation of resilience, confidence, and identity formation. A fascinating study was conducted on children raised in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s and 1990s, which illustrated the importance of direct physical care at a very young age. When Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, went in to visit some of these children he noticed, “The odd behaviors, delayed language and a range of other symptoms suggested problems with brain development” (Hamilton, 2014). Their brains, when studied further, were physically smaller than an average child. A study was then conducted where a series of children from 6 months to 3 years of age were assigned to foster families. When compared to the children still in the orphanage, the children placed in foster care, “were able to form secure attachment relationships with their caregivers and made dramatic gains in their ability to express emotions” (Weir, 2014). This study was important in establishing the necessity of direct parental care and attention for young children.
How do parents maintain full-time careers and raise children with the proper amount of care and attention necessary? A study published in the journal “Child Development” concluded that, “teens who spent the most time in child-care settings as young children were more likely to exhibit impulsiveness and risk-taking behaviors than peers who had spent less time in child care” (Miller 2016). While this example is much less extreme than the Romanian Orphanage study, children placed in day care facilities may not gain adequate attention necessary in their younger years of life. By the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), women and men alike typically only receive unpaid family leave of up to 12 months, however many families cannot afford to take this much unpaid time off. This leaves children at the tender age of 3 months, which is an extremely critical time for development and attachment formation (“Maternity Leave,” 2016)
While children are young, they learn to develop and catalogue emotions, the majority of which comes from interaction with their parents. In a 2003 study, children’s ability to imitate was tested at different age points until 30 months of age. The two groups were tested on their imitation skills by watching a live model or videotaped model and in each group the children had a higher score in the live imitation groups (Hayne, Herbert, & Simcock, 2003). Parents with decreased time as well as day care centers, use television and visual stimulation such as Little Einstein to keep children occupied – however this is not the most effective way for children to learn.
Technology’s Impact on the Post-Modern Family
Due to the increasingly young ages of children possessing smart phones, children as young as two and five years old spend time on technology. However, parents have also integrated technology into their daily lives, setting a precedent for their children. Jenny Radesky has spent years understanding both the positive and negative effects that smart phone usage and technology can have on childhood development. Specifically, she discusses the impact technology has had on the relationship between children and parents, “I worked and trained in a pretty low-end part of Boston, so I’ve been really interested in what forces of resilience we can nurture in kids growing up in poverty. And the parent/child relationship is the number one source of resilience for so many kids” (Wharton Work/Life, 2015). One study was particularly interesting, during which family’s smart phone usage was observed while at dinner. When parents brought out their phones, two groups of children evolved: those who silently accepted their distracted parent and a group that tried to get the attention of their parent.
In this group, the children, “would be just silly or do provocative things to try to get the parent’s attention, which is very stressful when you’re trying to do something on your phone” (Wharton Work/Life, 2015). This led to an angered outburst, and a lack of display of mind-mindedness. Mind-mindedness describes the gradual understanding parents develop of their children, such as the motives behind an annoyance like this one. The parent would normally grasp that their child just wanted attention and had no malicious intent. However, the phone allows a parent to re-enter their work world of distractions and stress, inherently translate to feelings toward their child. This distracted, semi-present parent is much less cognizant of their child and cannot react appropriately.
As a society, we are at an intersection of four living generations who have been exposed to modern technology and adapted in unique ways. Some individuals refuse to engage in the technological revolution and isolate themselves further from the massively interconnected networks of their peers. The differences between Generation Z and Generation X are only just being compared as both age and mature into teenagers and adults. While technology does have an arguably deleterious impact on the childhood development (through a post-modern family dynamics or direct usage), the more prevalent issue is awareness and constant iteration of how we engage with technology. However they choose to, parents can limit, control, or alter the introduction of technology to their children until a certain age. Parents themselves can also choose to be more aware of their own use of technology on an every day basis. Through the lack of understanding from the get-go, there will be improvements to the control of technology, which is necessary for healthy childhood growth and development.
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