Have you seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet?
It’s a documentary that raises awareness about the dangers of social networking for humans. In it, tech experts (many of whom have been instrumental in developing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google) speak candidly about the very real problems these social media sites are causing. They share their fears about what will happen to humanity if things don’t change. The film also follows a family with 3 preteen and teen children through parts of their day, showing how social media impacts the kids, their relationships, and their mental health.
I watched it recently with my family (including my teen and young adult children) and we all thought it was very well done, and incredibly thought provoking. The entire thing is just 90 minutes long, so it’s easy to watch in one sitting. I highly recommend that families with children in the 10 and up age group watch it as well.
Here are a few take-aways that stuck with me:
- These tech experts do not allow their children to use these platforms or to have much time on electronics at all. They are aware of the dangers and concerned enough to not expose their own children. I’ve written about the many dangers and symptoms that can happen when kids overuse digital devices and media, and you can learn more in this article.
- These platforms are much more addictive than we realize, and they are designed to be that way. They capitalize on our fear of missing out, our interest in novelty, and our desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings by providing a constant flow of updated content and notifications that keeps us coming back for more – even when we know we have more important things to do. As one of the experts on in the film said, he knows full well that these platforms are designed to keep him addicted (and exactly how they do it) and even he has a very hard time stopping himself from constantly checking his devices, his feeds, etc.
- These apps are designed to continue feeding us information that keeps us in a bubble of only consuming what they serve us. They utilize elaborate artificial intelligence formulas to constantly serve us videos, posts, memes, and more that are related to things we’ve consumed before. This causes us to have the sense that the world revolves around a very limited amount of information and opinions. Having a very one-sided flow of information is at the heart of what we’re seeing around the world today (and especially in the US) with the amount of divisiveness, hatred, and frankly dangerous misinformation and manipulation of facts.
- The other thing that really struck me was in regards to the family they featured throughout the film. Two of the children were clearly exhibiting distressing and problematic behaviors and thoughts around their constant consumption of social media. The parents seemed to have some level of concern about this, but essentially did nothing to address it. I suspect they were trying to make a point to parents that sitting idly by and doing nothing while children get sucked into this vortex of online dysfunction has consequences.
But I would have liked for them to provide some solutions as well. At one point the mother takes everyone’s phones and puts them in a locked jar during dinner, in an attempt for them to eat without device distractions. The pre-teen daughter is so distressed by this that she takes a hammer and breaks the jar, grabs her phone, and runs upstairs by herself. She is later shown to be struggling greatly with body image issues, depressed thoughts, and relational issues.
I want parents to see this because it highlights the very real consequences of allowing children unfettered access to these platforms. But it’s also important to know that solutions are available – you are not at the mercy of whatever your children want or choose to do with their devices. YOU need to be in control of what happens with the devices of minor children in your home!
- Utilize the screen time and parental controls that come installed on devices
- Install and use a third-party app like Qustodio to give you more ease and control over keeping your kids safe and healthy online.
- Communicate with your children regularly about what you and they are noticing about the effects of social media use on their mood, behavior, school performance, friendships, etc. Work together to come up with ideas to better support them.
- Don’t give up and assume that this is just the way it is! Watch the film and become aware of the risks and the harm that is being done. Then take responsible actions to help your children learn how to utilize tech in a healthy way…instead of being used by technology.
The Social Dilemma is a powerful film with a message that all parents and young people using devices and social media need to understand. If you’ve seen it, leave a comment to let me know what you thought about it. And if you haven’t, put it on the list of things to do as a family soon!
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