A story of social media, technology and the pandemic
C/O Mateus Campos, Unsplash
The evolution of society is cultivating the different childhoods of youth today
Young adults today often observe the emerging wave of teenagers and adolescents with mixed feelings of frustration, confusion, disgust and awe all at the same time. Throughout the first two decades of the 21st century, Tamagotchis have somehow turned into the iPhone 13, playing at the park has been replaced by scrolling through social media and better yet, no one ever foresaw a day where children can attend school from their beds.
Though these new practices shock the young adults of today, it only makes sense for an evolving society to yield different childhood experiences for newer generations. After all, every generation will have unique markers based on differing common experiences.
What many find difficult to comprehend in adolescents, however, is their changing behaviour, rise in mental health issues and declining social skills. Through personal investigations, parents and other adults are quick to point technology as the leading culprit, but there’s much more to the picture.
In addition to the rapid evolution of devices since the early 2000s, the world has also seen increased importance laid upon social media, influencers and remote communication.
Of course, no conversation nowadays is complete without factoring in the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s completely valid in this case though, because it is arguably the defining historical event for this new generation, much like the World Wars, the Great Depression and American presidential elections have been for previous ones.
The pandemic has effectively magnified both the causes and effects that have resulted in the colourful palate of children and adolescents today. It has enforced an increased reliance on technology and social media communication, even enlisting the few things that remained “normal” such as school into the same category.
With schools and childcare programs coming to a halt or shifting online, children growing up in the pandemic are lacking sufficient social and cognitive stimulation which directly affects their habits and behaviour. Like many issues, this is also an intersectional one wherein children of different races, family incomes and neighbourhoods are affected differently.
This is true for both young children as well as teenagers in high school who are now finding themselves in difficult situations in university classes. For example, last week, an alleged fourth-year McMaster student shared their experience and concerns on the university’s unofficial subreddit, r/McMaster, after attending a first-year online course.
The fourth-year student claimed that the younger students were spamming the online chat feature with disrespectful comments aimed at both the professor and TA during the lesson. The Redditor claimed that the students were “disgusting” and that it’s time for them to take off the “pampers.”
Though it serves as no excuse for such behaviour, experiencing the latter two years of high school online may play a role in the inability to recognize and adapt to different social situations. The same concept can be extended to younger children who experiencing critical stages in life, including elementary school and pre-school in a pandemic.
Children of this new era also differ greatly in social conformity as it pertains to the virtual aspect. With the rise of TikTok in the last couple years (and even more through the pandemic), it has made it increasingly convenient for influencers to post unachievable standards of beauty, looks and lifestyles that are nothing but meticulously designed highlight reels of reality.
Nonetheless, it has effectively resulted in children gaining an increased urge to conform to these standards. Where many of today’s adults can recall dressing themselves in Disney-themed t-shirts as kids, they’re shocked to learn that their younger siblings are sporting the latest TikTok outfits, complete with Nike crewnecks and Air Jordan 1s.
Whether this conformity is rooted in self-esteem issues or something more positive in nature will differ from person to person.
Some of the admirable things that have resulted from placing social media on a pedestal are the increased conversations surrounding social issues such as mental health, racial and gender discrimination and climate change.
Today’s youth have become more comfortable with speaking out and having difficult conversations about these issues that generations before them may have been rather hesitant to.
It seems that adults can’t make up their minds on whether they wish to applaud today’s youth or condemn them. The only certain thing is that their lives and the lives of future generations will continue to evolve much like the world will. There’s no stopping that.