This blog is written by Steve Baskin in response to Meg Clark's The Hidden Danger: Saving Our Children From Social Media.
First, I want to thank Meg Clark. In fact, I feel a need to thank her for many things. Allow me to share a short list.
- She was a friend and confidant when Susie and I first came to the world of camp.
- She has been a fellow “camp geek” in the pursuit of excellence in camping, particularly in how camp can make campers into extraordinary adults.
- Watching her create Camp Lonehollow gave us both inspiration and ideas that have helped us make Camp Champions better for our families.
- Even though she is no longer running Camp Lonehollow, she is serving on the National Board of the American Camp Association - no small task in the days of COVID.
- Finally, she is helping lead a conversation about the importance of camp as a tool to combat some of the problems created by social media.
This blog is a response to her thoughtful article about “The Social Dilemma” movie on Netflix and its implications for parents. In her article, she does an excellent job explaining the most important points in the movie. Specifically, she describes how the “attention economy” and the business models of companies like Facebook, Google, Snapchat, etc are hurting our young people.
We are fighting an unfair battle with these companies that regularly provide us with products, services and experiences that we deeply appreciate and value. But these same companies have a business model that (unintentionally) harms many of us, with teens and tweens perhaps struggling the most.
As you know, at Camp Champions we strive to be “partners in the parenting process”. Being a parent is the greatest project any of us will ever accept. Susie and I have always deeply valued the coaches, teaches and mentors who have helped shape our four college kiddos. We humbly strive to be such an ally for your family.
With this in mind, we echo Meg’s recommendation to watch “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. It is not a perfect movie, but it is powerfully informative. It describes many of the dangers of Social Media, especially its effects on young people. It features social media innovators who describe what is really happening behind the apps.
To be honest, it is more than a little scary. At the end, you learn that essentially none of these innovators allow their own children to use the very apps that they helped develop. That is telling.
One of the shortcomings of the film is that is provides few good recommendations to parents. With this in mind, we have gathered together a list of ideas that we have heard from multiple sources, from some of our campers to parents to other youth development professionals:
- Turn off notifications – people should use their phones when they want, not when the phone attempts to hijack their attention.
- Give your child joyful, tech-free experiences. Since you send them to camp, you are way ahead of the game on this one. Our high school campers all report that turning off their phones for weeks at a time is one of the single best parts of camp – they love the real connections rather than the “likes” on a screen. Family trips can have long tech-free elements.
- If your child is 11 or older, you can watch the movie with them (perhaps after you preview it). They will be surprised to see how much effort goes into capturing their attention.
- Talk with your child about how much time they think is the “right amount of time” to spend on social media and then agree on a way to achieve that. Here are some ideas to make that work:
- Install an app that limits social media usage to the agreed upon amount. Here are some to consider.
- Create routines at home that are free of social media. A standard mealtime, a scheduled daily walk or just specified tech-free outdoor time.
- Put social media apps on a desktop or laptop, but not on their phone. In this way, the phone will become more like a tool than a device that constantly tugs at them.
- Create alliances with like-minded parents. If you have rules like “no phones when friends are over” or “at least half of your friend time should be outside”, you want to make sure that the other families are enforcing the same guidelines.
- Model self-control. You do not want to be the first person to check a phone at a family dinner – that opens the floodgates for everyone else.
- Create some daily rituals for meals or bedtime. At camp, we have nightly rituals in which everyone gets a chance to share aspects of their day. These can be “name your daily high and low” or “delta-plus” (describe a highpoint and one thing you wish you could have done differently). There is a scene in the film where the family seems incapable of speaking to each other. Having a ritual like this can spark regular conversation.
We know that our children will live in a world of social media, but there are ways to help them do so responsibly. Let the tools be your children’s tools, not the other way around.
P.S. Again, a special thank you goes out to Meg for this dialogue. More importantly, we wish success to you parents as you navigate the choppy waters of big tech.