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Jenny Radesky
Jenny Radesky

Remote School as the Gateway Drug to Social Media

The New York Times 12/10/20

Several weeks into the new school year, I was sitting in my home office when I heard a series of beeps emanating from my phone.

Like many parents with children engaged in distance learning, I had set it up to let me know when their teachers posted a new assignment or made a change to the day’s schedule. But the sheer volume of notifications that afternoon seemed unusual and I soon saw why — my 9-year-old was in multiple, unsanctioned Google Hangout groups chatting with her friends. Within minutes, my phone had garnered 80 additional notifications — all with messages along the lines of an unending stream of “hi’s” or a parade of unicorn emojis.

Another disturbing discovery: My 7-year old was happily watching random YouTube clips, automatically generated suggestions that followed the short, educational videos assigned by his teacher.

This precipitous push into the social media deep end for my kids may seem relatively minor against the sweep of the pandemic. But for parents who did not expect to allow their children to have devices or use social media for many years, it is troubling.

Among the many changes in young children’s lives this year, the sudden access to the seduction of digital content and the opportunity for online communication with their peers compete for their attention. And with infection rates rising across the country, families may have to contend with distance learning, and all that comes with it, for the foreseeable future.

So what now? Do we consign our children to the social media flames and hope for the best? Or clamp down even tighter whenever they’re not on devices for schoolwork? Now that Pandora’s box has been opened, it’ll be difficult to dial back access once in-person school resumes.

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