Being brave about the new world

I struggle to see how posting a video of the latest Gylfi Sigurðsson goal to my Twitter feed, complete with emojis and hashtags, will significantly enrich the world at large. This is why I am terrified of my children. 

ELLEN F. O’CONNELL/HAZLETON STANDARD-SPEAKER/AP
FIFTH-GRADERS IN WEST HAZLETON, PA., POSE FOR A FINAL SELFIE ON THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL.

As anyone who has happened to wander by the desert wasteland that is my Facebook and Twitter accounts will know, I am not the most savvy social media user. If my wife is not interested in my bizarre fascination with the Icelandic national soccer team, the geography of the Faroe Islands, or the methane cycle on Titan, then I can’t imagine why anyone else in the world would be. So I struggle to see how posting a video of the latest Gylfi Sigurðsson goal to my Twitter feed, complete with emojis and hashtags, will significantly enrich the world at large.

This is why I am terrified of my children. 

Someday, surely, they will want a Snapchat account and I will (1) have to figure out what that is, and (2) determine whether my daughter’s participation could somehow bring about the fall of Western civilization. 

To the latter question, I have been inclined to think “yes.” Who has not witnessed a teen, head down and pecking furiously with her thumbs, as the world spun by on a glorious day – apparently unnoticed by her except as a backdrop to 17 duck-faced selfies? 

But Mike Farrell and Jessica Mendoza’s cover story this week on the Snapchat generation hints at a different world that people like me never get to see. A world of humor, imagination, genuine friendship, and remarkable creativity. 

According to Common Sense Media, this is what our kids can gain from social media. 

•Better friendships. Social media help teens learn how to better navigate social situations and maintain friendships, according to several studies. 

•A sense of belonging. One Australian study found that, while kids today have fewer friends than those in the past, they feel less isolated. 

•Support. We hear about cyberbullying, but we don’t hear about how kids on social media often rally around others who are struggling with a problem or a lack of self-worth. Common Sense Media cites a case in which a Minecraft gaming forum on the social media platform Reddit used voice-conferencing software to persuade someone not to commit suicide. 

•Self-expression. Social media give outlets for artistic and creative expression undreamed of even 20 years ago, providing a global forum for kids to post their art or fiction. 

•Good works. Social media harness charity in powerful ways, allowing kids to become active parts of viral causes that bless and push for progress. 

I often lament when society becomes so fearful that it won’t let kids walk home from school or wander off and play in the woods alone. That independence shaped some of the happiest moments of my childhood. But am I doing the same thing when I fear social media because of the dangers it presents? 

The dangers of social media are not to be dismissed, but the answer is not a hermetically sealed world free of online activity, Mike and Jessica’s article suggests. It’s just good, old-fashioned parenting in a new form.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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