** I recently conducted a survey to gain an understanding of what middle school children (grades 5 – 8) think about their experiences with cell phones usage & social media. The survey was conducted on the website http://www.surveyplanet.com and was anonymous. I wrote all of the questions. I received 94 responses and they are detailed out in this post. The statements, thoughts and opinions made about the responses are mine. **
Recently, our middle school hosted a meeting for parents of upcoming sixth graders. I sat in this meeting and listened to one of our Vice Principals passionately speak about his experiences & opinions with cell phone and social media usage with our middle school children. He spoke of the challenges that he faces as a school administrator on a daily basis that could be prevented if, 1) children of middle school ages did not have cell phones, 2) children that have cell phones did not bring them to school, 3) children that have cell phones and bring them to school followed the rules and left them in their lockers during the day, 4) social media was not being used by middle school children. I absolutely agreed with his statements, concerns and advice, which centered around the following:
- Middle school children do not need a cell phone to be successful in their middle school experience.
- Middle school children should not be using social media – the dangers outweigh any benefit at their age.
One opinion he shared with us that night –
We go to great lengths to protect our children. We lock our doors at night. We have elaborate and expensive security systems in our homes. Yet, we are handing our children devices, paying FOR them out of our own pockets, that are putting them at greater danger than any locked door or alarm system.
I went home that night and began thinking of our family’s experiences, which I understand may be different than yours. My husband and I have made it a priority to create guidelines and boundaries with devices and social media. With one child that has almost completed her middle school years and another child entering the experience, we feel it’s top priority to be knowledgeable and proactive. Although I agreed with our principal, I thought about the children. What do they really think about this? We can do our best as parents to learn, but are we asking the questions to them that may guide our future decisions? Are we educating ourselves and in turn, educating them?
It is my belief that we live in a society that values ‘fitting in’ more than being left behind or doing what’s right. I believe that even more than the children, we as adults want to fit in, and we model this behavior to our children on a daily basis.
What happens when your 9, 10, 11, 12 year old child comes home daily, begging for a cell phone? What happens when this child begs for an Instagram or Snapchat account? The child definitely will claim that they are the ‘only ones’ without one and they will likely detail out all of the ways that they are suffering because of it. As parents, what is our response? More often than not, we give in. We give in to fit in.
“I tried to hold out as long as I could….”
This statement was made by a grown adult of an 11 year old child that was begging for social media. Perhaps you are also shaking your head, wondering why this child’s desire for fitting in pushed this parent beyond a perceived point of no return? Is it the parent’s own desire to be accepted or the desire for her child to be? Does this alarm you? It should.
When we succumb to beliefs like this and openly make these statements to others, we prove that we are simply desiring to fit in rather than parent appropriately. And other parents follow suit, because – if it was ok for that parent to do, then it should be ok for me and my child too. And here we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. Children of immature age, immersed in topics, feelings, emotions and desires that they are not equipped to deal with. Parents that are likely equally unequipped in dealing with the fallout of these emotions at the child’s young age. School administrators, teachers and counselors, that have had to become equipped to deal with this fallout.
I write this because I have been there. I gave my middle school daughter a phone and permission to have an Instagram account when she was 12. It wasn’t long after she started using Instagram that she decided to stay clear of it. She removed the app from her phone, and although she still has an active account, it is rarely touched. Why? Because she didn’t like the way it made her feel. She was aware of the complexity, the feelings, the emotions – and she knew it was beyond what she should be experiencing. I realize that all children are different – but this was her experience. And it sure did teach me a lot.
Because of our personal experience with our daughter, after listening to our administrator speak, I really wanted to know more about what the kids were thinking. I decided to construct this survey and I asked that middle school children answer it honestly. I wrote the questions with our students in mind, with the hopes that their answers and experiences will help to educate those parents that will soon face these decisions.
The following questions & responses were gathered anonymously by middle school students in the 5th – 8th grade (approximate ages 10-14 years old). I received 94 responses to the survey.
- What age were you given, or allowed to purchase a smart phone?
- 10 or under – 19%
- 11 – 42%
- 12 – 23%
- 13 – 9%
- I do not own my own phone – 6%
- Do your parents monitor your phone usage (time limits that you are allowed to be on your device)?
- Yes – 70%
- No – 30%
- Are you permitted to have your device in your room during the night?
- Yes – 58%
- No – 42%
- Do your parents have an app where they can turn off the apps on your phone at any given time?
- Yes – 33%
- No – 67%
- Are you permitted to have social media (even just one type)?
- Yes – 78%
- No – 22%
- If you use social media, on which apps do you have an account?
- Instagram – 40%
- Shapchat – 28%
- Facebook – 6%
- Twitter – 6%
- Other – 9%
- N/A – 11%
- Do you believe your parents monitor your social media accounts?
- Yes – 69%
- No – 9%
- Only the ones they know about – 3%
- N/A – 18%
- Have you ever hidden a profile from your parents?
- Yes – 11%
- No – 67%
- N/A – 12%
- Are number of followers important to you?
- Yes – 29%
- No – 71%
- Do you feel that there is a correlation between number of likes on your posts and how liked & accepted you are by others?
- Yes – 36%
- No – 64%
- Do you compare yourself to others based on what you see on their social media feeds?
- Yes – 44%
- No – 56%
- Do you ever feel ‘lesser than’ others when looking at social media feeds?
- Yes – 42%
- No – 58%
- Have you ever witnessed cyber bullying on any of your social media accounts?
- Yes – 38%
- No – 62%
- Have you been a victim of cyber bullying?
- Yes – 17%
- No – 83%
- Do you believe parents that are monitoring accounts are aware of everything that goes on on social media?
- Yes – they know everything – 21%
- Maybe – they know some things – 59%
- No Way – they are clueless – 21%
- Have you used social media in school when you know it’s against policy to do so?
- All the time – 18%
- Once or twice – 35%
- Never – 47%
- Have you take pictures in school classrooms that you have posted to Snapchat and/or Instagram?
- Yes – 38%
- No – 62%
- Do you believe that your teachers are aware that students are using social media during class time?
- Yes – 62%
- No – 38%
- Do you feel addicted to social media?
- Yes – 25%
- No – 75%
- Do you think social media makes middle school easier or harder to navigate?
- Easier – 38%
- Harder – 62%
- Do you often feel excluded when looking through your feeds?
- Often – 14%
- Sometimes – 55%
- Never – 31%
- If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend (if applicable), how do you feel about sharing about it on social media?
- Proud/Important – 10%
- Popular/Cool – 4%
- Embarrassed/Uncomfortable – 5%
- Indifferent – 10%
- N/A – 71%
- When you are spending time with friends, do you feel you spend more time taking pictures to post than actually enjoying your time together?
- Yes – 25%
- No – 75%
- Do you feel social media is being used to spread kindness/positivity or create tension/negativity?
- Most of what I see is positive – 17%
- A little of both – 68%
- Most of what I see is negative – 15%
- Use a few words to describe what social media means to you (not every response is noted).
- It is a fun way to express yourself.
- I would be much more popular if I had social media.
- Annoying. Kids don’t talk to one another anymore.
- A way to compare yourself to others
- Judges yourself, dumb, not needed
- A way for people to share the good parts of life
- Social media means drama and rumors
- Keeps me entertained
- A way to keep up with friends and family
- A way to show an image of you without meeting you
- Social media is a good way to communicate.
- It is fun sometimes but annoying
- I think social media is just to get attention.
I would love to put some interpretation on these results and give you some things to think about if you are trying to determine when the best time to explore cell phones and/or social media with your child.
- 19% of the children received their own smart phone at the age of TEN OR BELOW.
- 30% of the children’s phone usage is NOT MONITORED.
- 58% of children are permitted to have their phone in their BEDROOM AT NIGHT.
- 53% of students are using social media during school when they know it’s against policy to do so and 62% believe their teachers are aware of this!
- 29% believe that number of followers are important to them.
- 36% feel that there is a correlation between number of likes on their posts and how liked & accepted they are by others.
- 44% compare themselves to others on their social media feeds.
- 42% feel ‘lesser than’ others based on what they see in their feeds.
- 69% feel exclusion of some kind when looking at their feeds.
- 38% have witnessed cyber bullying, 17% say they have been bullied themselves.
- 25% feel addicted to social media.
- 62% feel that social media makes middle school harder to navigate.
There are many things that are uncovered in these questions, but I will make my conclusion on that final statement.
62% of children surveyed feel that social media makes middle school harder to navigate.
Parents, consider this.
Middle school years are likely some of the hardest that your child will experience. We all want our children to grow and develop into strong, confident young adults. And we all want to help them. I believe that we are living in the lie that fitting in with their peers helps them in their middle school experience – that it eases their burdens. I’m not sure about you, but when 62% of children say that social media makes middle school harder to navigate, does that give you second thoughts? Do you see the percentages of students that feel ‘lesser than’, that are comparing themselves to others and are feeling addicted and excluded?
What price are we paying for them to fit in or for US to?
I believe there is a time when social media is beneficial and can be used for good. And it’s up to each of us to decide when that time is for our children. I hope these results help you in that journey.