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How Social Media is Manipulating Our Kids based on The ‘Social Dilemma’, a new Netflix documentary

“I don’t know any parent who says, ‘Yeah, I really want my kids to grow up feeling manipulated by tech designers — manipulating their attention, making it impossible to do their homework, comparing themselves to unrealistic standards of beauty,” -Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google and the co-founder Center for Humane Technology

‘The Social Dilemma’ argues that depression and anxiety in teens is drastically increasing as a result of apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Tik-Tok, and Twitter. Be sure to read to the end for helpful tips that address the problem.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, ‘The Social Dilemma’ is a new Netflix documentary that just launched, after being selected for the Sundance Film Festival 2020. If you aren’t supporting Netflix, and don’t wish to watch it, here is what parents need to know.

The documentary is led by interviews with the great minds of Silicon Valley that actually created Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, such as the co-inventor of the Facebook “Like” button, Justin Rosenstein, and the former President of Pinterest and former Director of Monetization at Facebook, Tim Kendall, to name just a few.

These former tech executives admitted that their goal was to make users addicted. Because they know how damaging it can be to a kid’s self-esteem, they admitted that they do not allow their own children to use the very platforms they created!

Jeff Seibert, a former exec at Twitter, says that these companies track not only what image you look at but “for how long you look at it.” Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google and the co-founder Center for Humane Technology, says this means the artificial intelligence or AI behind the app knows what you like, and what kind of images and videos will keep you engaged on the platform. They know when you or your child is lonely, bored, depressed, looking at pictures of a friend group, or former love interest. The algorithm can predict what kinds of emotions tend to trigger you and the best way to keep you scrolling or typing. As explained in the documentary, social media is now classed as an addictive activity because it turns your “psychology against you” so that you stay stuck to the screen.

As Harris points out in The Social Dilemma, humans evolved as a species to be social, and to care what our “tribe” thinks — but we did not evolve to take in “10,000” different opinions from all over the world. “These technology products were not designed by child psychologists who are trying to protect and nurture children.”

He notes that social media can negatively impact children’s mental health. “It’s not just that it’s controlling where they spend their attention, the artificial intelligence knows how to dig deeper and deeper down into the brain stem and take over kids’ sense of self-worth and identity.” Anyone with an online profile knows how fleeting that happy sensation, or “fake, brittle popularity,” feels when you get likes on an Instagram post.

Gen Z, kids born after 1996, is the first generation to have social media on their phones at the impressionable middle-school age. What does that mean for the generation?

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, PhD, a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, explains. Between 2011 and 2013 There has been an increase in depression and anxiety for American tweens and teenagers.

  • Admissions for nonfatal self-harm has gone up by 62 percent for girls between the ages of 15 and 19. For girls who fall into the 10 to 14 age range, the figure has increased by 189 percent since social media became mainstream.
  • Suicides in teen girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have increased by 70 percent compared to the first decade of the century. The suicide rate of preteen girls (between the ages of 10 and 14) has increased by 151 percent.

“They’re much less comfortable taking risks,” Haidt argued, citing the lower numbers of teens who go on dates and/or get their driver’s license.

These are some of Dr. Haidt’s tips for parents.

  • Do not let your child have social media accounts until the age of 16 when they have more discernment.
  • Do not have cell phones in bedrooms. Put them away at least an hour before bed. 

In case you didn’t know, porn sites like Pornhub have made the content on their sites absolutely free and easy to access to “help” us all pass the time while in quarantine. Porn usage is on the rise with 9 out of 10 boys and 7 out of 10 girls admitting they have repeatedly looked at porn. 

A few years ago, we caved and began letting our teens use their phones as wake-up alarms. They had great grades, were involved in church and were open and trustworthy. We are now regretting that choice and have reinstated this policy even though our kids are 17 and 18! 

  • Turn off the notifications that keep you coming back to your phone. 
  • Work out a time budget with your kid. “If you talk with them and say, ‘Well, how many hours a day do you want to spend on your device? What do you think is a good amount of time?’ They’ll often say something pretty reasonable,” he says.
  • Consider using Qwant as a search engine because it doesn’t keep track of your search history and bias your results like Google does.
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