Social media has invaded every aspect of our lives, and it presents a threat to children’s mental and emotional well-being. Nowadays, children are using social media at increasingly long periods of time every day. This increase in daily use of social media is associated with feelings of loneliness and depression, and can even result in health-related complications.
While aiming to tackle this contemporary issue, we were introduced to Follow Your Sun, an organization which provides tailor-made workshops where participants discover what intrinsically matters to them. In collaboration with this organization, we decided to create a workshop addressing the unconscious effects social media can have on the development of self identity. This workshop is based on a strong academic foundation, and through conversations with various academics and experts in the field, we were able to gather feedback and integrate it into our final redesign.
This class is an interactive ninety-minute session with three activities that allow the children to deeply reflect and to discuss in order to facilitate knowledge about using social media healthily while empowering their self-identity. With this initiative, we seek to empower children by addressing a problem that is not typically addressed in the classroom.
Self-identity has two aspects: “the self as the subject (the individual as experiencer) and the self as the object (the individual as known to himself)” (Guardo & Bohan, 1971, p.1910). The latter refers to the perception that one has about oneself, including abilities, weaknesses, values, faults, and accomplishments. There have been four dimensions suggested that contribute to someone’s self
identity: humanity, individuality, sexuality, and continuity. The first refers to someone being aware of their ability to have human-specific experiences. Individuality is the concept of being unique. Sexuality is related to one’s ability to identify one’s gender and explore the behaviors associated with it. Lastly, continuity is the ability to see one’s present version as continuous with who one has been and will be (Guardo & Bohan, 1971).
In addition, identity has also been conceptualized as “a set of resources which people draw upon in presenting and expressing themselves via interaction with others” (Seargeant & Tagg, 2016, p.5). This means that people present themselves differently depending on the context in which they find themselves. Self-identity is also conceptualized as the realization that one is a ‘separate person’, individual from others (Ey, 2014). However, from ages 9 to 12 years old, children’s sense of self becomes more complex, as they “evaluate their self-identity by comparing themselves to others” (Ey, 2014, p.147).
In this workshop, students will be given many opportunities to connect with and explore aspects of their self-identity, and how these are both expressed in and influenced by social media.
At this age range, given children’s susceptibility to others, and to others’ judgements, their self identity can be largely influenced by what they are exposed to, both in a positive and negative way.
Since children’s self-identity is highly susceptible and malleable at this age, social media becomes a source that influences it through the large number of inputs it creates as the stimulus from this source is never-ending. Thus, it can be worrying to know that children aged 8 to 12 years old spend four to six hours a day on social media (Hawkey, 2019). Moreover, heavy media users (more than 16 hours of media content in a typical day), report being sad or unhappy more often than medium and light users (Rideout et al., 2010).
The possible negative consequences of increasing social media use are varied, and they affect both children’s mental and physical health. For instance, sedentary behavior as measured by screen time has been linked to unhealthy diets (Pearson & Biddle, 2011). Moreover, watching television or playing with a computer for over 2 hours a day could result in obesity in children due to the lack of activity (Karaagac, 2015). Additionally, sitting for long periods of time has been
associated with various bone-related issues in children aged 11 to 13 years. As for children’s emotional health, although using Facebook to make friends can reduce feelings of loneliness, using Facebook to compensate for social skills can increase peer-related loneliness over time (Barbovschi et al., 2015; Teppers et al., 2014).
It has been shown that there are neurological responses in the brains of young people to acceptance and rejection on social media. Adolescence is an especially sensitive period for social interaction, and social media creates a large platform for young people to give unfiltered social feedback. Therefore, it is important to address the structural changes that occur in the social brain of adolescence, especially in the context of growing social media use (Crone & Konijn, 2018).
There are two especially important facts of brain development that affect prepubertal and adolescent children’s education and social competencies. Firstly, there is a gap in brain development in adolescence: the limbic (center for emotions) and reward systems develop earlier, and the prefrontal area (responsible for cognitive control) matures last. This contributes to reward
seeking behavior and the deficiencies in executive function that is observed in this age-group (Konrad et al., 2013). Secondly, the social parts of the brain (for example, the superior temporal sulcus) go through considerable myelination in adolescence, making adolescents more sensitive to acceptance and rejection by peers (Blakemore, 2012). Both of these have substantive implications in the development of peer relationships. Children in this age-group are greatly influenced by peer relationships: their self-image, status, attitudes, and beliefs are all dependent on that of their social environment. Relationships also affect people’s sense of self-determination, based on the relatedness component of the self-determination theory, which is elaborated on below (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
These facts about social brain development have important implications in education. Firstly, since the effect of peers can be both positive and negative, the goal of the learning environment is to emphasize the positive aspects. In other words, positive peer learning should be encouraged, as positive peer relationships reduce negative emotions and can facilitate constructive learning behavior. Since competition fosters a negative learning environment, it should be avoided. This is why we have included activities for children to encourage and support each other throughout the workshop, given that peer influence is so influential at the age of the workshop’s target audience. Secondly, learning should be designed in a way that either affects social status in a positive way, or it does not affect social status. Lastly, numerous studies showed the negative effects that stress has on the brain (e.g., Lupien et al., 2007). Consequently, classroom stress is to be minimized.
There are different kinds of motivation, typically simplified into extrinsic and intrinsic. However, there have been arguments made that motivation is rather a concept falling into a continuum (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In this theory, intrinsic motivation leads to people doing something because it is enjoyable, and extrinsic motivation entails doing something because of external pressures, such as punishments and rewards (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2020).
Social media is a tool and choosing to utilize it can be due to externally controlled motivational factors, or because of the interest, excitement, and confidence it stimulates within oneself. Namely, three psychological needs that motivate the usage of social media entail the want to grow one’s skill set (competence), connecting and integrating with peers (relatedness), and exercising freedom of internal will (autonomy). Students who are intrinsically motivated to use social media, do so for the inherent satisfaction rather than external pressures (such as peer pressure and the pursuit of ‘likes’) and are more likely to experience enhanced subjective well-being, greater volitional persistence, and better assimilation as an individual within a social group.
After concluding this course, in conversation with the founders of Follow your Sun, we are considering carrying out the following courses of action:
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Wie wij zijn. Follow your Sun. (2020, August 25). Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://followyoursun.nl/wie-wij-zijn/.