If you were a child of the 90s (or a parent of a child from the 90s), you might remember Tamagotchis. These colorful egg-shaped toys were digital pets; they needed to be fed and have their waste collected to keep them alive! Tamagotchis created so many distractions among students that many schools banned them, and parents often found themselves keeping their child’s Tamagotchi alive during the school day. Although Tamagotchis were distracting, they did not create significant anxiety, pressure, or stress of which the educational or medical community is currently aware.
Today, pre-teens and teens don’t have simple Tamagotchis but, instead, invest their time in keeping their Snap streaks alive. A Snap streak is a number that denotes the number of consecutive days two friends have been sending a direct snap back and forth on Snapchat, a photo-based social media tool. If you break your Snap streak, then you end your consecutive communication record. While older technology such as Tamagotchis only allowed users to interact independently and without significant social considerations, newer technology such as Snap streaks requires users to interact socially while engineers monitor and analyze their use to continually make the tool more engaging.
Many adolescents have become obsessed with up keeping their Snap streaks; a lapse in a streak can be equivalent to breaking a friendship. Business Insider wrote an interesting article explaining that young people feel compelled to keep up their streaks just to display and maintain their friendships. Some teens are even waking up a few minutes earlier than normal just to keep up their streaks- sending meaningless photos of a blank screen or their ceiling. They are simply trying to get through their day despite yet another obligation. This socially-driven type of interaction can have great impact on adolescent lives (having friends is one of the most important facets of a teen/tween’s life- see Huffington Post article). This obsessive and pressure-driven behavior could very possibly lead to short- and long-term health issues and has already created a subculture of compulsive social media updating.
Tristan Harris, TED speaker, founder of Time Well Spent, and former Design Ethicist at Google, explains in the Manipulation episode of the TED Radio Hour podcast how deeply this obsession runs. Adolescents give their Snapchat passwords to friends when they leave on vacation just to keep up their Snap streaks. Harris likens online activities like Snap streaks to cults; the culture around these social media tools passively pressures users to remain active and, simultaneously, discourages users from extricating themselves once they begin. How can a teenager ever leave this type of app or activity if all their friends are on it and so many of their interactions can be impacted by streaks?
At SET, we believe in the positive power of technology. As a society, we have just begun to understand the subcultures that social media creates - especially amongst adolescent populations. It is no longer enough to simply identify these subcultures; it is critical that we help our teens/tweens navigate these new and changing landscapes. We believe that to raise responsible and healthy adults parents must help (through discussion and expectations) moderate their children’s technology use, develop self control, and recognize patterns in their behaviour that could lead to negative repercussions. We recommend educators, administrators, school psychologists, and school health practitioners conduct regular assessments and guided discussions on social media use as well as provide device free time/zones. Lastly, we urge the private sector to get involved by finding technological solutions to mitigating, monitoring, and guiding social media use in relation to health concerns and addictive qualities.
If you’re interested in learning more or guiding your school on healthy social media practices, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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