Throughout the school district, the question of whether screens and social media are unhealthy for teenagers has been deemed an important topic this year. Under the slogan “Choose Presence,” the district is working to educate students and families about responsible use of social media while at the same time encouraging everyone, at least once in a while, to tune out and log off.
Earlier this month, the school administration presented the documentary Screenagers to parents and students to start a conversation about technology and to inform audiences about the dangers of spending too much time in front of screens. In the documentary, film director Delaney Ruston highlights how screens can quickly become a distraction, limiting the ability of teenagers to interact with one another and perform well at school. Today, unlike their parents, American teenagers are being raised and educated in a world where millions walk around engrossed with their cellphones and many classes have online assignments. Naturally, this results in an entirely new set of questions, dangers and opportunities in the digital age.
Personally, I think it is fair to say that there are many valid drawbacks to digitizing so much of our world. I believe that too much screen time can easily detract from the parts of life that are much more fulfilling when experienced without screens. I think that visiting my grandmother on her birthday will always be better than sending her a quick text, and I also believe that only so much can be conveyed in terms of emotion and meaningful conversation in an app. Likewise, quick access to the unlimited revenue of information that is the Internet means someone using a phone or tablet has access to both the very best and the very worst kinds of material. For this reason alone, it’s pretty scary for me to see five-and six-year-olds with their own tablets or smart phones.
I think that there is no shortage of reasons why screens might be dangerous if accessed too much or if used without mindfulness. However, I also think that technology deserves much credit for the equally long list of all that it does offer. Screens such as laptops and tablets have allowed for instantaneous research and all variety of functions available through apps. I cannot imagine how many hours a day I would lose leafing through library books to find information for research projects or essays. Likewise, I strongly believe that social media has opened doors for long-distance friendships and connections. I also have not personally noticed any significant difference in the way that my classmates interact and in the way that adults raised without cellphones communicate.
One of the reasons that I most value screens and social media is the opportunity that both offer for personal growth. In an unprecedented way, access to apps that allow teenagers express their creativity, learn more about global news, or see windows into the lives of people on social media from all over the world provides a glimpse of the world at large with one click of a button.
Ultimately, I think that we have much to learn about how to balance the digital world with the still important tangible world. However, I do not think that we have to face this issue with only fears about what could result from a world immersed in technology. Personally, I would argue that we have the power to use technology to grow our understanding of the world and ourselves in a very exciting and positive way.