Social Media – Connection or Disconnection?

Social Media – Connection or Disconnection?

The following article was written by Natura Education’s Early Childhood Coordinator, Tracey Mayhew, as a contribution to our partners at Nature Play Qld. Tracey’s refreshing perspectives and ponderings on educating and raising children in our modern world are always an interesting read and a great conversation starter.

The word ‘connection’ can conjure up a whole range of meanings for all of us. But connecting with others, whether this be family, friends, our children, or even pets, is often the first thing that comes to mind. Certainly these days this connection is often not necessarily a physical one as more and more we connect with one another through the invisible waves of technology and social media.ipad-1126136_960_720

Of course up until 2008 the concept of searching the internet on a mobile phone didn’t even exist, taking photographs with these now ever-present devices only started in its early stages in 2000, and mobile phones themselves only came about in the 1990’s (Wikipedia 2016).

But the question springs to mind: “Should we be concerned?” Because, as amazing and accessible as social media is, is it really a true connection?

No matter how we think of the meaning of “connection” it is a vital part of our being. Connecting to others, how we connect to ourselves and the world around us, modern technology and our indoor and outdoor environments are all part of our daily life. Because we are human beings, we literally cannot survive without connection to others in some way shape or form – so if the only option we have is to connect with them via modern social media then so be it. But is it as valuable to connect online as it is to connect in person?

One study showed that a lack of social connection can be of greater detriment to our health than obesitysmoking and high blood pressure. Social connection also strengthens our immune system, helps us recover from disease faster and may even lengthen our life. People who feel more connected to others have also been found to have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathetic to others, more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them (take a look at this article).

tree-200795_960_720I do believe the essence of who we are as human beings will prevail regardless of time and technology, because human nature is always human nature. It is what links us to one another. It binds long lasting friendships with happy memories, adventures shared and laughter as we learn, tears as we try, and life as we figure it out. And whether we want to or not we are always connected. And so it was of little surprise to me when I recently heard a statement explaining that when children are begging to watch TV or check out social media, even pleading to play the Xbox, they are actually searching for a social connection. Although this concerns many of us, when we stop and think it actually makes sense.

Are we all at some level really craving that social connection to the point where we are using modern technology over visiting a friend in order to fulfill a basic human need?

Social media definitely has its place in our current world, yet what is the cost? Have we really forgotten the basic laws of human nature or do we think it’s now easier, quicker and more worthwhile to connect online? Children of any age and adults alike will always feel more fulfilled after a genuine real life connection rather than a computer based one. And how much time and space we give to either is our own personal choice. Is social media taking the place of real life connections or is it enhancing them? If children are searching so deeply and longing for a social connections when they are begging to watch TV or play games on the computer then what are we missing?

I know first-hand the immediate effect of confiscating a 16 year old’s iPhone for 2 days while camping with the family. Even with a prime location on the water, a jet ski, a boat and a whole crew of fantastic people from 2 to 90 years open and ready to connect, for this teenager without WiFi or iPhone her world genuinely fell apart! I just didn’t get it. So I did a little research and I learned firstly that not only do most of us use social networks to stay connected with others these days, 55% of people use social media to stay in touch with what friends are doing and 36% of social media users are on there simply because their friends were already there. Ok, interesting. As I allowed this knowledge to sink in I could not help but feel sadness… for this devastated teenager, and for a whole generation of teenagers and adults alike that think and feel like this!

So the question begs to be asked: how can we fulfil our children’s needs when this is the new reality?

climbing-1496217_960_720For us in our family we have decided that technology can wait. It can wait until after real visits with friends and family, it can wait until after meal time and family time in the evenings, it can wait until after true connections have been made. All of it can wait as our children’s young years simply can’t! Time will move all too quickly and if it is connection our children truly crave then this is what we should strive to deliver as parents and carers. Talking at the dinner table every night, building indoor playgrounds and spending time outdoors has been way more fun than we ever imagined. Riding bikes along the beach, bush picnics and walks in the rain with the dog in our raincoats. This is what our children will remember. Not staring at a screen for hours on end each day.

At a Nature Play conference recently where we talked about the importance of ‘playbourhoods’, we were asked to think of what our favourite memories were growing up? What makes you smile when you think of that moment? And does that moment involve a screen? How can you make a better connection? After all:

 “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” We are profoundly social creatures.” Brene Brown, Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, specializes in social connection.


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