Youth & the Digital Incubator

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by Rachel Mayan

Recently, a friend shared with me that her tween-age cousin, Virginia, lost a friendship because Virginia didn’t keep up their Snapstreak.

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For those unfamiliar with the Snapchat feature, a Snapstreak occurs when two people have Snapped each other three consecutive days in a row, which triggers a fire symbol next to that friend’s name and a number for how many days the streak goes on. Snapstreaks can go on forever – the longest recorded Streak is 798 days.

The Snapstreak became a representation of the level of friendship between Virginia and her friend. Both friends must participate for the Streak to live on.

Snapchat on Phone
The Snapchat icon is a ghost, which (likely unintentionally) alludes to the darker side social media plays in the digital realm.

When Virginia missed the 24-hour window to send any photo to her friend via the Snapchat app, she ended their streak and, thus, made the conscious decision to communicate that she no longer cared about that friendship and that her friend had done something awful and was just the worst person. Or so her friend would interpret.

What may seem like a foible of teenage adolescence is nothing more than the product of the digital incubator our youth have grown up in. We see it over and over again – virtual relationships replace in-person relationships, and the upkeep of the relationship online can mean more than the upkeep in person.

Yes, it’s silly for friendships to end over an unsent picture, but more importantly, yes, it means something to our children whether it’s silly or not.

Kid taking picture with phone
Kids today 10 years old and younger grow up using smartphones as an extension of their everyday lives.

The average age for kids in the US to receive a phone is age 10. As parents, it would seem the focus lies not on preventing exposure to the digital realm but on understanding where our kids spend their time and how that is shaping who they are.

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In a recent blog post, Nemours stresses how parents struggle to understand just what’s happening when it comes to their kids’ social media usage. They’re raising the iGeneration without having had nearly as much “i” experience as the kids themselves. In Kids and Mobile Devices: What’s Up With Social Media?, Dr. Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD, breaks down the most popular apps and sites used by adolescents and teenagers, from Snapchat and Facebook to Instagram and Tumblr, and stresses that knowledge of the platforms allows us to better protect our kids.

Snapchat
Beyond just the social apps, kids use their phones for texting, watching videos, and even doing schoolwork.

Beyond just the social media apps, kids are now using their phones to access schoolwork, watch videos, and message friends directly through multiple texting apps. The ins and outs of those platforms are explained in Kids and Mobile Devices: What’s Up with YouTube, School Apps, and Messages?

Knowing where our children spend their time in the digital world is about getting to know their language and understanding not only how to communicate with them better, but also how they view the world and the relationships they foster. Communication may be more abundant than ever in the digital era, but it’s not always the kind parents are after with their kids. Spend some research time in the digital world to spend more quality time with your kids and have the open conversations needed to keep them safe.


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