I just finished speaking to both parents and students at a high school and—wouldn’t you know it—social media was the all-consuming topic of my two days on campus. So many parents felt obliged to purchase a smart phone for their child as a middle-schooler, and now years into the social media craze, many feel it’s an addiction. One parent called it “heroin.” Another said she feels her kids are “slaves who are at the mercy” of it. Another parent compared it to “opening Pandora’s Box.”
It was interesting to me that several of the high school students saw social media much the same way. They acknowledged they struggle to live with it, but struggle to live without it. A high school junior described her love-hate relationship to all her social media apps this way: “Social media on your smart phone is like having someone tap you on your shoulder all day long.”
That would get downright annoying to me.
A Conversation to Have with Your Students
Today, I’d like to propose a logical sequence of thought that may provide a helpful topic for conversation with your students, as a parent, coach or educator. As I research for new book we’ll be releasing next year, some rationale has surfaced for reducing social media use—or, perhaps not using social media in the first place.
Consider this logical sequence of thought:
1. With social media, there are constant pings from texts, pop ups, newsfeeds.
Once our phones screens are filled with social media apps, the constant noise begins. Input from your friends messages, to news feeds, to videos, to pop ups, to reminders all began “knocking at your door.” At first, it feels good. The pings actually induce endorphins through our systems, as we feel affirmed from all the attention we’re getting. And how cool is it to be reminded to stand up, to call mom, to exercise or even to breathe, if you’re into mindfulness. Eventually, most of us drift from the wonderful feeling to an overwhelmed feeling. We can’t seem to keep up.
2. This puts us in a reactionary mode of operation, feeling a need to respond.
At this point, we either get over it, and develop the ability to push social media prompts to the side until we’re ready to respond to them, or…we slip into a reactionary mode of living, playing defense with our life instead of offense. Our to-do list still exists, but in our minds we are disrupted and distracted through our days. Whatever projects we work on or people we work with are subject to interruptions. Our brains become unable to genuinely focus on what’s in front of us. Even when our phone is upside down or turned off, research says we are distracted people.
3. When in this mode, we tend to drift toward an external locus of control.
Finally, when we are in this state, we can easily shift into what Dr. Julian Rotter called, “an external locus of control.” In 1954, Dr. Rotter introduced the idea that people tend to embrace an internal locus of control (believing they are in control of their success), or an external locus of control (believing that someone or something else is in control of their success). Our mindsets shift gears into reactionary modes. We place others in control of our decisions, looking up what others say in their comments, their likes, their shares, etc. We blame others for things that go wrong and we look to others to solve or problems naturally, with an external locus.
Worst of all, by 1963, Dr. Rotter discovered that those with an internal locus of control ended up measurably more successful in life than those with an external locus of control. That’s actually quite predictable.
All the more reason, however, to prevent this from happening.
The Bottom Line
My point is modest but clear. Could it be possible that a simple addiction to social media coerces us—even bullies us—into a frame of mind we neither want or need? I believe the best version of me occurs when I remain responsible and “own” my decisions, rather than delegate them to someone else. In fact, we actually increase our anxieties by allowing someone else (even those we know) to take control.
In contrast, we are better people, and better leaders, when we maintain an internal locus of control and we play offense, not merely defense in our minds.
My closing questions are:
- How do we take steps to reduce our social media use?
- Are there certain apps we should get rid of that are unhealthy for us?
- What would happen if we went an entire day or week without social media?
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