My oldest is 19. When she left for Germany back in the fall, she joined Facebook for the very first time. It has allowed her to keep up with friends back home and even create new friends in a foreign country through au pair meet up groups. This is a great example of the technology serving, helping us to maintain and create connection in our relationships. But when the tragedy in Paris struck, the way the medium disconnects us from ourselves, one another and life, becomes all too obvious.
The rallying cry on Facebook among her “friends” was to demonstrate solidarity for Paris by changing the picture on their profiles to the French flag. For a precise and very short amount of time, comments abounded on the tragedy, then quickly faded away and went back to business as usual, pictures and all. “Pointless” and “overwhelmingly shallow” were my daughters words to me regarding the Facebook approach to dealing with tragedy, loss and terror. As someone who grew up with ample opportunity to be well established in her own emotions while experiencing the power of true intimacy, she understands that difficult times are best dealt with in ways that allow for depth of feeling, permission for a range of emotions to be expressed, as well as the time needed to struggle towards meaning. True intimacy, and its power to transform and heal through the unbearable, does not arise where quick and catchy posts squeezed in between the moments of our lives drive the exchange.
When we allow social media to take the lead in teaching our children about real life connections, we give our children empty and harmful approaches to dealing with overwhelming events and information. One of the things our children need most is the ability to stand in the face of the overwhelming and make sense of it. No amount of time spent on social media will get them there. Ever. As a matter of fact, without a solid foundation beneath them, access to social media generates anxiety, hopelessness, and a lack of agency in themselves.
Our children must be allowed a childhood where they have the space and the appropriate modelling for what it truly means to be connected socially. They must be given years and years to develop the emotional intelligence, along with the resilience it brings, to live satisfying lives. Couldn’t we give them the time they need to become established in their social and emotional natures before turning them over to the machines? Couldn’t we agree that it is well worth any “sacrifice” on our parts to give them this time? Couldn’t we stop offering up pointless and shallow ways of teaching them to connect? We could.