Sep 1, 2023

Social media and me. (If it's hard for us, it's worse for kids)

Social media and me. (If it's hard for us, it's worse for kids)

This past week, a reel I posted has been played over 200,000 times on Facebook and Instagram.

Let me rephrase that: a reel my assistant made and posted has been viewed over 200K times.

I can’t do this alone. Because I can’t be The Screentime Consultant and spend a lot of time on social media…right?

But in the interest of full transparency and because I am not going to hide behind the challenges I personally experience with all things digital, I want to be very, very clear: I do spend time on social media. Sure, I use it as a business tool. But I don’t scroll aimlessly “for business”-- I do it because it grabs my attention and keeps me interested (see: persuasive design).

I don’t like social media, generally speaking, but it’s hard to ignore. Yes, there are really funny videos. You can learn cool things in bite-sized lessons. But even the “good” can keep me stuck to my phone for longer than I intend to be on it. And it rarely makes me feel better about myself afterwards.

I’ve had mixed feelings about social media for a while. Well before I started this business, I spent a fair bit of time on Facebook. Fifteen years ago, that was the social platform of choice (for moms my age, at least). But even then, I hated how it held me captive. The FOMO was real. I scoured my mom-friend posts to see whose baby was sleeping or walking or reading and wondered, How are we measuring up? It was exhausting and ridiculous.

So I deleted Facebook off my phone, which meant I could only look at it on my computer, which, theoretically, required more effort. That strategy worked…for a while.

But instead of Facebook, I started looking more at Instagram. I liked the visual aspect of it. It was easier to scroll through it without really thinking too hard about things. There weren’t lengthy posts like on Facebook and fewer ads (initially).

But then the same thing happened– I didn’t like how it held me captive and drew me in. I didn’t like how I felt after 30 minutes of just…scrolling. 

So I deleted it off my phone. And IG is not designed for computer use– it’s specifically a mobile app–so I didn’t use it much. I managed to stay away for a while.

But I felt restless and bored and then found myself checking my weather app a lot more (it changes a lot less frequently than social media feeds!). Or I’d open a browser and scroll through Twitter, which, with its word limit and bottomless feed of constant updates about news and politics, was much more compelling to my brain than IG. 

Little tiny hits of dopamine that kept me scrolling.

And now Twitter has gotten so much worse in the past year. I can see the trolls slide in as the algorithmically-driven feed steers me towards polarized posts and inflammatory content. I’m a lurker, not a poster, on Twitter. But I have a hard time quitting it.

As The Screentime Consultant, I know why it’s so hard to stop scrolling. I even made stickers that read “Twitter before bed messes with your head” because it does. 

But I do it anyway.

Sometimes, I make my husband take the phone away from me, especially if I am doom scrolling before bed. (One small action we have mastered: we charge our phones in the living room so they don’t stay in our room overnight). 

But my wrists hurt. My thumb is sore. My eyes get tired and watery. I feel agitated and irritated and mad. My ability to focus on longer reading tasks is more challenging and takes me a lot more effort to get into– and even though I read a book every night before bed, it takes me a lot longer to get through one. 

And mostly I hate how in spite of everything I know, everything I teach, and everything I say about social media…it is hard to step away, put it down, ignore it, even if and when I want to.

Even worse, I’ve noticed a change in my reactions to those who post similar content or messaging to me– instead of being grateful to have allies, I feel defensive or annoyed.

That reel I posted received a lot of comments, mostly from people I don’t follow. Many of them were really insightful or supportful. Actually, all but one of them was really great.

So guess which one I’ve been thinking about over and over again? 

The comment was more dismissive than cruel, but I felt judged and angry. I wanted to look at that person’s profile and see what I could judge them back about. I wanted to write a sassy or witty reply that would “show them.” I wanted to delete it and pretend it never existed. I literally lost sleep thinking about one offhand comment that some stranger wrote on an 8-second video I made to help other parents. 

And that feeling has lasted a week.

Readers: I am a 45-year-old parent with a degree in education and book on screentime coming in January and I have feelings of vulnerability and shame from random comments on social media that make me feel bad about myself.

I may be The Screentime Consultant, but I am imperfect and complicated and human, just like you.

But here’s the most important takeaway from all of this: If this is hard for me, it’s way worse for kids. 

  • Their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed– the part of their brain that helps them process emotions and assess risk and make judgments and think critically. 

  • Their social skills are newly budding– and even slightly delayed due to the pandemic and isolation from peers.

  • Their coping skills are dampened by 24/7 news cycles, witnessing their own parents’ anxieties, a lack of mental health resources, and constantly hearing and seeing terrible things go viral.

  • Being a child is hard. Being a child on social media is a million times harder.

Today, this essay won’t offer you strategies to limit your time on social media, because right now, I think I’d feel like a hypocrite. I’m very much a work in progress.

But if there is anything you do walk away with from reading this it is this: 

Talk to your kids.

Find out what they’re doing online.

Listen without judgment.

Then say, “I”m here to help. Social media was never made for kids.”

Humbly, 

Emily

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.