What Kate Winslett and Essena O’Neill Have In Common: Banning Social Media


What Kate Winslett and Essena O’Neill Have In Common: Banning Social Media

What Kate Winslett and Essena O’Neill Have In Common: Banning Social Media

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Imagine a house with no Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo, Vine, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest, Snapchat or Periscope.

This heaven – or hell – exists in the homes of Kate Winslett and Essena O’Neill.

Banning social media is perfectly understandable. As a parent Kate Winslett has been bombarded with messages about how the online world, and social media in particular, is a threat to her children’s safety. As a celebrity, she would be all too aware of how social media posts and usage can damage careers, personal health and wellbeing. Winslett’s main concern though, is that social media leads to eating disorders.

Certainly Essena O’Neil’s insights into the grueling reality of the life of Instafamous teens gives validity to her concerns. O’Neil’s brave and self-imposed ban on social media is more than understandable too. This week she has described her life as an Instagram and YouTube star as “not real life” and implored other children “to know this isn’t cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention.”

Whilst Essena’s message is an important one, her experience of social media as a teen model does not tell the full story of social media usage for her generation. The problem with “no social media” policies for teens is that they take into account only the potential threats posed by using social media. These bans ignore the extraordinary opportunities on offer to build friendships and relationships; contribute to social change initiatives; create entrepreneurial ventures; build professional networks; and showcase skills, attributes and talent for potential future career prospects.

In this light, it seems harsh and even short-sighted to eliminate an avenue that can open so many doors for young people. Too often digital tools such as social media are seen as singularly negative influences on youth. However, used well, social media is actually an enormously powerful and positive tool.

In the same way we guide our children to understand a television show or movie is not real, or that celebrities and models in magazines are frequently airbrushed and photo-shopped to present an image of perfection, so too do we need to provide guidance on the version of reality is at times presented through social media. Just as children learn critical literacy skills, so too do they need lessons in critical digital literacy so they are able to enjoy social “unrealities” without harm to themselves.

For parents not convinced of the potential positives of social media, you can think of banning social media for your teen like banning junk food. Although you want to save them from the dangers of obesity and unhealthiness, outlawing junk food often backfires with negative consequences. A balanced approach is generally agreed to be most healthy and sustainable. Digital Nutritionist Jocelyn Brewer says, as parents we have the choice between blaming and fearing our kids devices or we can  “proactively design the kind of digital world that supports our happiness and wellbeing.”

As well as keeping the lines of communication open, role modeling undoubtedly has a big role to play here. Demonstrating healthy, positive, safe digital citizenship ourselves to set the example for our children is a great place to start in ensuring they understand and can navigate the threats of the online world; as well as empowering them to take advantage of the opportunities it offers them to do good for themselves, others and the world around them.

Importantly, we need to support our children to develop healthy self-esteem offline too, so that are not preoccupied with seeking validation through likes, shares and follows. Positive use of social media relies on knowing that it doesn’t really matter how many people are responding to online activity, just that the right people respond. What matters is being consistently responsible, respectful and reputable online to build a positive online presence that reflects our children’s real selves.

Let’s teach our children how to use the incredible tools in their hands, not take the tools away. Let’s teach them to protect themselves online, but to project themselves too. And let’s teach them to make social media work for them, not against them.

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