Ever lie on the couch with the intention of relaxing for a few minutes with your phone in hand only to spend hours mindlessly scrolling through apps like Reddit, Instagram, and Twitter? Yep, same here.
And while it seems social media has been woven into the fabric of our everyday lives in 2020, the new Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma shows how harmful spending endless hours on social media can be — particularly when it comes to kids.
Essentially, a group of tech experts come together to discuss surveillance capitalism and the science behind technology addiction. Per the film, what started as a harmless way to stay connected with friends has turned into a dangerous tool of manipulation, and most users aren't even aware of it.
As former Google design ethicist and cofounder of the Center For Humane Technology Tristan Harris explains in the documentary, "Social media isn't a tool that's just waiting to be used. It has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them."
The worst part? After a while, social media starts to manipulate what you like. It tells you what to check out, on purpose, because it’s how all these platforms make money. They sell your data to the highest bidders. Whoa.
Staying off our favorite apps is easier said than done, but parents know the importance of practicing what we preach. Moms and dads who want to reevaluate their family's relationship with social media should consider the following takeaways:
Kids’ Self-Worth and Mental Health
Certainly one of the most disturbing elements of The Social Dilemma is just how negatively a child’s self-worth is affected when they’re regularly checking in on social media and comparing themselves to their peers. According to the documentary, because of social media, self-harming has trippled and suicide rates have risen by 150 percent among children.
"These technology products were not designed by child psychologists who are trying to protect and nurture children," Harris continues.
He goes on to note how social media can negatively impact children's mental health. "It's not just that it's controlling where they spend their attention," he explains. "Especially social media starts to dig deeper and deeper down into the brain stem and take over kids' sense of self-worth and identity."
There's No Such Thing as Privacy
While the concept of internet privacy is worrisome for most adults, The Social Dilemma delicately points out that it's especially problematic for teens. Because Gen Z is the first generation that took to social media in middle school, they’re used to coming home from school and spending hour after hour on devices.
Experts confirm throughout the documentary that social media users don't have any privacy whatsoever in terms of what they search or what videos and photos they interact with on their feeds. And while that's scary enough as an adult, it's particularly disturbing when you think about your kids.
"The classic saying is, 'If you're not paying for the product, you are the product,'" as Harris explains.
Parents Should Have Ongoing Conversations
While it’s probably impossible to delete all of our social media accounts or ask our kids to delete theirs, it’s best to reexamine our family’s relationship with social media. In the documentary, some of the executives talk about how none of them let their kids access social media. But if that’s simply too difficult, watching this movie is a good start. Gaining awareness of the dangers that are lurking on the interweb (and most importantly, talking to our kids about them) will help us take control over our social media usage.
Parents concerned about their kids' search safety should also consider using Qwant (a search engine that doesn't store your search history) rather than Google. And for families whose children aren't old enough to have their own cell phones yet, consider holding off as long as possible.
To stream the entire documentary, you can view it exclusively on Netflix