As part of the research for my podcast, “Technology & Your Kids,” I was able to interview my six kids on the topic during our family’s summer vacation.
The blog below was actually written by my 14-year-old daughter who just finished middle school – the Wild West of smartphones! Her words are so sincere and insightful, I think you will find them extremely valuable.
First, let me summarize my interviews with my other five children. My 29-, 27-, 25- and 21-year-olds had similar things to say. They grew up in a different technological era and, today, see technology as a tool that they use every day – much like a carpenter uses a hammer. They are aware of the risks and how it can be all-consuming, but they each have made non-computer activities a priority in their lives. Whether it be interactive games, hiking, camping – they all agree, it is all about balance.
My 17-year-old boy is more connected to his phone as a social media tool than as a “tool of his trade.” His phone is often a distraction from what he knows he should be doing and, when I asked him if his phone has negatively affected his grades, he said, “I probably would have done better without social media, but it is all about learning how to balance it. It’s about maximizing the good and minimizing the bad.”
My 17-year-old is very social with lots of friends. He has had a tight friend group since elementary school and they all stay closely connected through social media. He loves the way he can stay connected with so many friends from the past. He sees it as an incredible tool to keep friendships going. For example, he has been attending summer camp for years and, this year, attended an international art camp. He now has close friends all over the world. He told me that staying in touch with them would be impossible without social media.
He also said he sees lots of kids in school going right to their cell phones instead of being social. It’s a way to check out, withdraw and not have to socially interact. He also tells me that none of his friends have any parental restrictions and he sometimes complains about our restrictions. (In our family, we definitely have certain rules, like the “24-hour rule,” where if they break any of our technology rules, they lose their phone for 24 hours.)
My Experience with Social Media & Technology
by Gigi Douillard
My name is Gigi. I am 14 years old and I just finished middle school. This summer, I spent a month in Uganda. I was working with my sister who works for the Mwebaza Foundation, which partners elementary school kids in Colorado with elementary school kids in Uganda.
On the way to the airport, I realized that I forgot to bring my phone! This turned out to be a blessing in disguise…
When I arrived in Africa, I was so wrapped up in what I was seeing that I totally forgot about my phone. If I had my phone, I would’ve probably been taking videos of everything, Snapchatting or even playing games on the long car rides.
Instead, I found things to do every day that were exciting and I never thought about my phone.
I was shocked that the kids at the Mwebaza School were so happy. They didn’t just not have any technology, they had close to nothing… and they were some of the happiest people I have ever been with. They had no toys or computers, no TV, no games or technology of any kind. They just had each other. They made up games, things to do; they were creative and laughed, playing throughout the day. It seemed like that was what kids are supposed to be doing, just playing and having fun.
When they were in class, they were super focused and took learning as an incredible opportunity. They were so grateful for the opportunity to even have a school. In Uganda, the kids are not under law to go to school. Kids in Uganda are considered lucky if they have a school. It was clear to me how much they appreciated and were grateful for the school.
For them, an education beyond elementary school is rare, so they make the most of every moment when in school. In my middle school, most kids hate school (myself included) and complain everyday that they have to go to school.
I don’t want you to think I’m judging anyone for using technology and social media – I am not. It is not all bad. It totally depends on how you are using it, and who you are communicating with while using it.
My experience has been negative mainly because of the negative environment that can exist in social media. What I mean by that is, let’s say someone was doing something really fun and I wasn’t invited – I would feel left out. I don’t like the negative energy that can come with that.
Social media has become a tool to make people feel good about themselves. Before my experience in Africa, I thought it was totally okay to post things on my Snapchat story every hour of every day. This brought me what I thought was happiness. Being “liked” meant feeling happy, and that meant I had to keep posting. It might not feel that way for some people, but it did make me feel that way.
I found myself feeling the need to constantly post, but was never really actually happy or satisfied. It was weird. I felt I needed to post things to be happy, but the more I posted, it really didn’t make me happy at all. I think a lot of kids are posting like crazy to be happier, but don’t realize that posting stuff doesn’t actually do that.
It took going to Africa to figure that out. There, I was able to really connect with people, and that made me happy in a way that I don’t remember ever experiencing in middle school.
It’s hard to balance the good and bad of social media, because there is both. Keeping in touch with positive people is really great, but the negative side can be really negative and can really hurt people.
Since I returned from Africa, I have completely changed the way I use my phone. I don’t Snapchat anymore. I tried starting a new Instagram account, but found it hard to keep that balance, so I haven’t been using it.
When I go online, I try to focus on things connected to my life goals. Lately, I have been studying acting and what it takes to become an actor. In the back of my mind, I have always wanted to become an actor, so that has been my focus when online.
I stopped using Facebook and Twitter, and pretty much backed off the social media. I might get back into it later in my life, but right now, I am focusing on becoming myself and being confident enough so that I know I won’t get lost again when I start high school.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to go to Africa and that I was able to gain this perspective. Being without social media while I was there really helped me. Hopefully, sharing my experience will help other kids get unstuck from the world of social media. Once again, there are really great parts of social media, but the bad parts seemed to slowly happen to me without me even realizing it.
I also realized that I was faking being perfect and looking perfect on social media, but I am not perfect. I think social media gave me the idea that everyone has to be perfect, and that’s not the case. No one is perfect. You can be beautiful on the outside and not be perfect, and that is something not taught in social media.
Social media, like Snapchat and Instagram, are mostly pictures showing bodies. They are not focused on what’s in your heart. What is in your heart is you, and your body is just what you look like. In social media, it is difficult to show your heart. Showing your heart by making strong connections with people is much easier to do in real life.