Let’s Discuss: Social Media

August 28, 2018

(Photo from when I taught classes on social media – ironically.)


Today Gabe and I wanted to open up the conversation about social media. Gabe was an educator and school administrator for middle school and high school aged students for almost ten years, and has seen first hand the shift from pre-social media to a technology oriented generation. Social media is a large part of the work we do as bloggers, so it is something we are constantly evaluating. We do believe it can be used for good, but in the same vein we will probably only be giving our children flip phones in high school. 😉 We want this post to be merely food for thought and discussion within your own circle of friends and families. It is not meant to draw conclusions or judgements as we are very much still in the unknown of this newer age of technology. I am going to turn it over to Gabe to share his experience and research.

I started my work in education just after the founding of Facebook, and just before the release of the first iphone. (Back when you needed a university issued email address to join facebook… yep.) From the start of my career as a teacher through my most recent years, I witnessed a dramatic shift in the technology usage of my students.

I was in a unique position to witness first hand the growth of smartphone technology and social media amongst the youth, but also watch how this technological and social media growth impacted the generation from year to year.  Some impacts have been amazing to see, such as access to new resources and information, new ways for students to develop creative expression, and the ability to make learning more interactive and hands on. However, I also saw increases in anxiety, depression, stress level, and social conflict, just to name a few.

One thing I think we need to keep in mind however, is why social media platforms are developed and grown. Simply speaking, social media is designed to target and exploit our human need for connection as a means to make money. The first president of Facebook, Sean Parker, stated in an interview with the website Axios “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains… It’s a social-validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors, creators – it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people – understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

When we as humans feel a connection with another person or group, or when we receive a compliment from another, a form of dopamine is released in our brain which gives us a sense of satisfaction. Social media is designed to create that satisfaction repeatedly over brief periods of time, thereby conditioning us to crave the satisfactory feeling. This is the direct intention for including “likes”, “views”, emojis and public comments. It is a means to validate our self worth on some level in a repeatable way. This naturally drives us to use the platform more often, and turns the social media platform into not only a lucrative way to advertise directly to us the consumer, but also to project marketing trends by studying the information that the platforms collect when we use them. Both of these equate to more profits for the social media company.

Something worth giving thought to is that no one knows the long term effects of extended social media use on the human brain….especially a child’s brain. Multi-year studies are just now beginning to be published examining long term statistical trends in regards to smartphones and social media. Many of these support the need to reduce and regulate our consumption of social media as they point to some concerning trends. A 2017 study by the American Psychological Association seems to present a direct correlation between increased use of technology and social with increased levels of stress, especially in today’s youth. These articles (#1, #2, #3 ) by Dr. Jean Twenge suggests a correlation between an increase in sleepiness, loneliness, dependence, depression, and isolation among teenagers and the development of smartphones and social media. This 2015 survey suggests that the average American teen consumes about 9 hours of media per day day while a tween consumes 6 hours per day. That is an alarming amount of time. While a clinical review  from the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that social media amplifies ones positivity or negativity based upon the type of interaction he or she chooses to consume as well as what the viewer is prone to feel. This Forbes article from 2017 examines 6 ways in which social media can negatively affect our mental health as adults if we are not vigilant of how often it is used and what is viewed (it includes links to its sources).

Now, one thing I want to make clear – I am neither anti-social media, nor am I anti- technology/smartphone. I have come across positive ways in which personal technology and social media has in the past, and is currently helping and uplifting others. I personally use both regularly, not only for my job (obviously!), but also for leisure. It has become a critical resource for learning, inspiration, and problem solving. It has also provided a great avenue for friendship that would not be possible otherwise (wink to my buddy William in Florida). I know that there are positives that cannot and should not be overlooked, but as a father, former educator, and entrepreneur who depends on and works within social media, I believe it is our responsibility as adults to continually evaluate on our own habits, our personal intentions for using social media, our consumption level, and if the nature of the social media we consume is positive and uplifting, or negative and divisive. What we view, post, and say on social networks directly impacts our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Subsequently, it also makes an impact on everyone around us, especially our families. Are we taking that responsibility seriously?

Anna and I have frequent discussions on how we hope to use it for good, as well as constant re-evaluation of habits. It isn’t easy to be immersed in it for work and not feel drained by it at times. Anna has set times within the day to check in, post, and interact, and we both leave our phones aside when we are spending time with each other or with our children. We know they are little sponges observing our behavior, and will learn an order of priorities based on how we live our life. We definitely let them watch a fare share of Blue’s Clues or Wild Kratts, but we are totally okay with them not being familiar with how to use a smartphone. Setting these boundaries is difficult at times, but I see them as a proactive way of fighting for not only our mental and emotional health, but that of our children as well.

We wanted to share this with you as a means for conversation within your own homes, and with your friends. We are in an era where the age of technology and smart phone use is still relatively new, and my hope is that we start to understand the gravity and importance of understanding how it can affect our lives and our culture, both positively and negatively. Drop your thoughts below. We will be here to discuss!

Leave a Comment

  • Cate Schlueter

    I’m a sophomore in high school stuck in the middle of 6 kids and grew up with very limited device usage (I’m talking like once a week for tv and once a month for movies haha). As we’ve gotten older we’ve definitely increased our time using devices but have stayed pretty strong on how often/ how long. Growing up in a social media consumed culture is really tough not to get sucked into. Both my parents have strong values on these things. Like, I don’t even have a phone 😉 But I’m grateful I don’t. Because when I’m on one it can get pretty addicting before you even realize it. Of course, I %100 agree that social media can be used for good things. It’s more just disciplining yourself on the content you’re viewing, what you’re posting, and how often you’re on, that sort of thing. Anyway, this was long but I wanted to thank you for this blog post, I think it’s so important. And I love what you guys are doing. Your family life is so inspiring and I love the creative design part of it 🙂 I’m interested in graphic design, photography/videography sort of thing. 1 last thing: highly recommend this book: How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price 😀 Oh, and I love how all your kids are named after Saints, we are also 🙂

    • Cate, thank you so much for taking the time to read. Hats off to you for your wisdom on this subject! I think it might be hardest in high school and college to go against the grain, and making those hard choices on phone use isn’t easy. It’s encouraging to hear your feedback! I am looking into that book! Thanks for being here:) x

  • Meghan A. Bender

    Hi Anna and Gabe!
    You put into words well the conversation and thoughts that I share on social media. My mom tells the story of when she was little her aunt lived in California and the rest of the family was in Indiana. They didn’t get to see each other’s families for over ten years and my mom just wished there was a way that they could look at each other’s faces and talk to them from far away. (Enter: FaceTime). So great, but then I hear stories about young children and how technology is hindering their ability to be imaginative, or solve problems, or feel independence and it just makes me worry. I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I have thought about this topic a lot. Even for myself I think, what could I have done with my time today had I not scrolled instagram? Thanks for starting this discussion! It’s encouraging to hear that others feel this way too and can still run a successful business on social media.

    • Hi Meghan, thank you for your thoughts on this! Yes, thank goodness for things like FaceTime that has tossed the confines of distance between people we love. I definitely think we will continue to see studies on social media give us answers we probably already knew, but it is something I hope we all continue to look at seriously!

  • This is HUGE; thank you for writing this!!

  • This is a HUGE issue and is so important for parents to discuss and consider. Thank you for sharing!! xo

  • I agree, we need to pull back and check ourselves to make sure we have control of our minds and hearts. What we take in on a daily basis matters. I personally set my social media up to take in the good either visually or verbally; positive inspiration, spiritual encouragement that strengthens me, nature, design, family based things, wholesome things, and I encourage my kids to do the same. We talk about how to guard against certain things to protect our minds and hearts often. They are the window to our soul. Though social media has its benefits I told them it is a big human study and an ongoing experiment. If they encounter negative block it, delete it, unfollow it. Make healthy boundaries, take a sabbatical, reboot, and lay the phone down. Create yoir atmosphere in such a way it builds and grows you. Don’t compare, but use it to lead and inspire others in a positive way. Encourage and strengthen others. Choose your focus, and stick to it. —My kids actually appreciate phone breaks and the creativity they get back. They feel decluttered and refreshed from the overload of the high speed download. It’s a balance!

    • This is so wise. Thank you for the thoughtful comment! I look forward to the my phone free days (usually Saturdays) because it really does feel like a decluttering of the mind!

  • Just found about your blog by LoveTaza’s one. This is the first post I read here and I really enjoyed it!
    It’s really great to open the discussion on those kind of topics, we really have to discuss more about social medias and their impacts in our lives nowadays. Plus I think it’s really relevant to talk about it as a blogger. So thank you for that!
    I love to discover new things and I really think internet and social medias are great to keep in touch with friends, discover other cultures and share what you love with others but I find myself having troubles to just stop when it’s right. I mean sometimes (many times to say the truth..) I just find myself scrolling instagram or twitter (especially in the subway) for no particular reason and it always makes feel kind of “empty” at the end. please tell me I’m not the only one to feel this way with social media sometimes ?).
    I would really love to read more about technology and children, I really think we have a lot to learn and we have to be really careful as you say.

    Sorry I’m French so my English is kind of bad but I hope you can still understand what I tried to say! Anyway, thank you for this post and I will sure come back on your blog!

    • Claire, thank you so much for reading and the comment! I was finding myself doing the same….grabbing my phone during any moment sometimes as a means of escape from stress. If it is hard for adults, I don’t see how it is possible for children to self-regulate. I feel such a responsibility to my children to give them the right keys of a happy childhood. I think there will be more studies released, and hopefully more reading material soon.

  • Such good food for thought! My own social media use is something I continually evaluate. Not only for my own health, but also – as you said – to make sure I am modeling good habits for my kids too. I appreciate you guys contributing to this conversation! It’s good to know others are trying to find their way and fight the good fight as well!

    • Thank you Rachel. I have days where I consider walking away from it all. I have also experienced so much good from it, but have found the best balance from sticking to limited use. I feel really thankful that so far, my son’s friends don’t have phones and they are all still very much into soccer, legos, and exploring! As it should be!

  • Meghan Cavanaugh

    Love the blog post, Anna and Gabe. Gabe is spot on regarding the responsibility that we all have on this topic. We had noticed significant anxiety and behaviorial issues with our oldest 7 year old son after time with the smart phone/TV. We have essentially cut out daily tv time and iPad usage in our house, and the change has been amazing. He is a happier kid and so are his siblings. Creative play and bonding with siblings have taken over, and I’m so grateful we made the change. I honestly do not judge what other parents decide, this has just worked so well for our own family. God Bless !!

    • Thank you Meghan! That is incredible! Thank you for sharing your experience. I notice a difference in my son even with just too much tv. More anger and discontent for sure!

  • Great post. I am a mother of 5 young kids, I gave up Instagram permanently in April and I am a mind at peace now. I am also far more productive and grounded in my immediate community. I think temperament has a lot to do with this. By nature, I am susceptible to both distraction and comparison. I wish I wasn’t, but I am. So totally hopping of instagram has helped. Since giving up the gram, I’ve read and created more, I even started working part-time. I compare myself less. My oldest is now in middle school and I’ve shared my experience with her. She does not have a smartphone or social media, she calls her friends on the house phone and hops on her bike to visit those close by. She doesn’t worry about what other friends are doing with out her, because she isn’t scrolling through snapchat highlights. The teen/preteen years are hard enough, but I think social media makes it so that there is no peer break. You always are in touch or aware of what everyone else is doing. Comparison is the thief of joy. I will probably get my daughter a flip-phone at some point in high school, but I don’t think I “owe” her a smartphone. When she is old enough to pay for one in late highschool or college, hoepfully she will be grounded enough to manage it. But even I struggle with it as an adult, so I am not going to give her that struggle at this tender age.

    • I love hearing different experiences, and I find this really refreshing! I think we are constantly inundated with the belief that we NEED social media, smart phones, and all the apps. When in reality, I think there are so many benefits without! I definitely feel more productive when I set aside the phone for the day. You hit a great point on personality types. It definitely can affect different people different ways.

  • Shauna DG

    This is something that comes up often in discussions… especially because I am newly 39 and have NEVER had any social media (unless Pinterest counts ?) I promise I’m not crazy or judgey which most people think. I just never had that urg and plus had plenty of close examples of social media gone wrong. I could write tons more on other reasons why I’ve chosen not to ever ingage but I’ll keep it short. Now the problem my husband and I face is our sons. One who is coming up on 16 has now decided to get his own instagram after never having much interest before. I know it inevitable at his age but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me and make me feel kinda vulnerable as a parent. We’ve set up rules and guidelines of course and we’ve had plenty of family discussions on the topic and how keeping boundaries, keeping your focus on the real world, and your spiritual world is way more important than your online world. So yes I definitely agree, with everything you shared and expressed! Thanks for touching on such an important topic. It’s nice to hear other people’s (especially other parents) views on this.

    • Gabe Liesemeyer

      Hi Shauna, thanks for your thoughts. Based upon my experiences in education I highly recommend one of the guidelines that you set is requiring that you can have access to his instagram account and know his password at all times. He will kick and bawlk at the idea, but in the end it is worth it. Explain that it is not him that you don’t trust but others. Do random checks, and if he is on his own phone, set paramaters of times when it is acceptable, i.e. Don’t let him sleep with it. It may seem overboard, but I have seen too many kids get into trouble, loose too much sleep, and put themselves in too many bad situations over this.

  • Thanks for this thoughtful post. I have 2 girls (ages 10 and 11) and although they do not currently have smartphones or social media, they do have an iPod which is only loaded with Pandora so that they can listen to music (no internet, texting, games, apps, etc). For the time being they are ok with this but I know the day is coming when there will be pushback.

    Do you have any resources (articles, books, etc) that are geared towards kids that I can have them read and/or research so that they can understand why social media and too much technology can be harmful to their development? I feel like a broken record, and I’d love to have some resources to review with them that can explain it in a way that they can understand, rather than just mom nagging on them on how technology can be bad/scary. Love your blog! Thanks!

  • I’m late to the party/article, but wanted to add that my older son wasn’t allowed a phone until he was 16 for this reason. I’m a former software developer and paranoid about screen time. During high school my son used the phone in the office of the school for arranging transportation with us (the way we did at his age!). And yes, there was some whining. However. Since he got older and moved out, he’s called me at least 3 times just to say, “I want to thank you again, Mom, for not letting me have a phone when I was 10. Someone complimented me again today for looking them in the eye when I speak. People never believe I’m 18. Literally no one my age does that. They don’t even know how.”

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