Media Magazine

Perpetuating the Fear of Technology

By Drpamelarutledge @pamelarutledge

Let me say at the outset, I have a problem with people who quote research without at least telling me what research they are quoting so I can look it up and read it myself. But that’s just a pet peeve of mine.

The main point is that Banks’ column is contributing to what communication scholar George Gerbner calls the “Mean World” syndrome, where the negative or violent content content of mass media makes people believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. In the first paragraph, Banks mentions cyberbullying, online perverts and “Facebook depression” as things “stalking our kids.” Kind of front-loaded on the scary stuff. Are these important? Yes. Should you teach your kids about them? Yes. Do they represent the bulk of Internet experience? No, not by any means.

Banks summary of part of the report follows. As you read it, be prepared to explain to me why this paragraph would have been any different 25 or even 50 years ago if we deleted the words “on Facebook.”

Apparently, kids with poor self-esteem can be pitched into depression by the perception that everyone [on Facebook] is having more fun that they are. They become obsessed with others’ status updates and friend tallies. Some withdraw and lose interest in socializing; others try to court popularity by taking desperate measures to impress others.

Banks also says:

Doctors feel the need to get involved because so many parents go to them “concerned about their children’s engagement with social media.”

This isn’t indicative of a pandemic. What caring and responsible professional would not get involved when their patients express concerns? Primary care physicians are often the first stop in pursuit of health and wellness issues and in many cases are actual gatekeepers to getting more specialized services, given the red tape of so many health insurance companies.

Banks summarizes the report’s recommendations saying, “doctors suggest that children spend less time online and that parents bone up by spending more.” The conclusions of the research team of pediatricians, however, she dismisses out of hand, saying she thinks the doctors are missing the point because “Figuring out how to upload a video of a singing dog isn’t going to keep my kids safer.”

This is frighteningly wrong on two counts, beyond showing a bit of hubris:

  1. This is not what it means to become better educated about technology.
  2. Even the amount of experience it takes to upload a funny video will give parents a better common ground for having the kinds of discussions that they need to have with their kids about technology.

How can you convince your teen that they’re investing too many hours on video games if you’ve never played one with them, asked them what they like about them, had them demonstrate their skills to, explain to you the game logic, and tell you who they play with? How can you dismiss Facebook out of hand when you don’t understand how kids use it and why? Give the kids a little respect!

The real crux of the matter is that technology is a tool that you have to learn how to use. The job of the parent is to teach their children. How many of you gripped the edge of the passenger seat as your teen learned how to drive? Or did you just hand them the keys and say “go for it!” Good parents try not to send kids out into the world unprepared; but too many parents are afraid, in denial, embarrassed to be learning from their kid, or unwilling to do the hard work of parenting.

Common Sense MediaThe millenials may be the first generation that, from a very young age, has a substantial body of knowledge and skills (often highly marketable) that their parents don’t have or understand. Try some reverse mentoring. Ask your kids to educate you about what they would want to teach their kids about the Internet and technology if they were in your shoes.

A good resource for parents who want to learn more about kids and media is the website Common Sense Media. It won’t teach you how to upload a YouTube video (you’ll have to ask your kids to help you with that) but it provides some good guidelines for how to talk to your kids about media and evaluates the age appropriateness of different media content.

Oh, and in case you’re interested, here are the report’s recommendations to pediatricians to help families navigate the social media landscape. The news release about the report is at AAP News Room and the full report is at: Clinical Report_The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families

  • Advise parents to talk to children and adolescents about their online use and the specific issues that today’s online kids face, such as cyberbullying, sexting, and difficulty managing their time.
  • Advise parents to work on their own “participation gap” in their homes by becoming better educated about the many technologies their children are using.
  • Discuss with families the need for a family online-use plan, with an emphasis on citizenship and healthy behavior.
  • Discuss with parents the importance of supervising online activities via active participation and communication, not just via monitoring software.

The one important recommendation they missed is to remind pediatricians that they need to walk the talk, too.


O’Keefe, Gwenn Schurgin, and Kathleen Clarke-Pearson. “Clinical Report_the Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.” Pediatrics (2011),


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