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Modern Family: Hashtags Are The New Hash

Social Media Week theme iconToday’s parents are grappling with an issue no previous generation has faced: social media’s place in our lives and
in our children’s lives. Each day this week, at least one post will tackle the topic from a different angle. Read on and, as always, make the decisions best for you and your family.


“You’ll soon be doing more thumb repairs for the young than knee replacements for the old,” I told an orthopedic surgeon friend. He laughed but both knew it was a sober point we were making. Whether they text or tweet, are on Facebook or Instagram, given the fact that children spend endless hours overusing— and often misusing – social media, it’s not far in the future when worn-out thumbs will need operable fixing.

Or, then, maybe not. The laws of technological redundancy ensure that, after querty keyboards faded into touch phones, voice commands and, a little later, retina reading are only a blink away. The craze for the next big thing they can use to upgrade their all-important social media status is making mechanized monsters of kids. What’s worse, it leaves them frighteningly depersonalized.

There’s pervasive proof of this. Glazed-eyed zombie-children, so fully and fervently intent on filling screens with text lightning-quick, are able to chat face-to-face only limitedly, in monosyllabic, staccato lines at best. Speech is almost paralyzed, stuck in their throats. Their art of conversation is reduced to “Yowassup,” “Chill, dude,” and “This is sick.” (Of course, in this lingo, “sick” contrarily means “amazing.”)

Could such fragmented speech herald similar breaks in personality? Possibly, agree social scientists. Emoticons are the new emotions; the warmest gestures of affection are now communicated by clicked hugs and kisses. Constant connectivity results in kids retreating into ever-defensive shells, with every expanded emoticon update. It’s cowardice over courage; with the communication anxiety they suffer, kids are even breaking up with each other through tersely keyed in messages.

Seeing our kids smile more into their computer screens than at us, my husband has asked them to look up once in a while, to pay closer attention to family plans. They agree for a while before boredom gets the better of them—then it’s Snapchat time again.

At the root of the addiction to information overload, thanks to an incessant rash of apps and hashtags, is what psychologists and pop culture both call FOMO (fear of missing out). Part of their instant gratification creed, this “now now now” mantra makes it imperative for kids to be in on everything in order to give and receive instant approval and popularity.

“I don’t want to be the last to find out what’s happening,” admits a 12-year-old acquaintance, who actually had to be revived from panic attacks when his phone dropped service temporarily. Despite a day healthily packed with school and sports, he was irritable, disoriented and nearly depressed until he could log on again. Left aghast by the episode, his grandmother quipped, “It must becalled an iPhone because children are wrapped up in their I-I-I world.”

Inevitable to an extent, children cannot but stay hyper-connected 24/7. Joeri Van den Bergh and Mattias Behrer explain in their book How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding to Generation Y: “Just as the Industrial Revolution changed lifestyle and culture by the end of the 19th century, omnipresent connectivity and digital advancement has reshaped the social DNA of our current generation.”

Not all revolutions clarify or correct our course. Going beyond impatience or restlessness, the mad obsession with uploading and downloading trivialities has inexorably seized Millennials’ relationships. Damage is done when social acceptance is decided by social media. A 10-year-old was shocked to be “unfriended” on Facebook by a catty clique because “her selfies suck,” they posted. To think framing a pouty shot of yourself should determine your worth, better known as “cool quotient.” Horror stories of online ostracism and anonymous bullying abound. Sensitive victims of viral vitriol sometimes resort to harming themselves, preferring self-inflicted physical injury to the pain of social (media) shame.

Then there is the compulsion to broadcast only the good times. Forced jollity demands every leisure moment must be recorded. It isn’t enough to stand in front of the Taj or the Pyramids soaking in the majestic monuments; the experience cannot be complete without a picture snapped and posted pronto. “See, don’t be, the story,” author Monisha Rajesh advises young people. When we race to chronicle moments without living them, the real magic of travel is lost.

And finally—the smut. Impressionable minds find and share it very easily through social media. Consistent access to pornographic material on the Internet may guide them toward twisted expectations of how sexuality and relationships play out in real life, drawing strange lines between the sexes.

“It’s one big public puke-fest, showing off rather than sharing!” rants the mother of three social media devotees who is alarmed to hear her youngest announce that Barbie, too, has her own Instagram account to document her “style evolution.”

But then, parents aren’t entirely exempt either. An advertising professional admits microblogging madness distracts her as she struggles to settle into first-time motherhood. “Checking a feed is as much about my Instagram feed along with the baby’s!” she confesses.

Young and not so young, we can never give up on individual balance—especially in an age that wires us from womb to tomb.

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