At a congressional hearing in 2021, Facebook was being criticized because Instagram, which they own, was raising anxiety and depression rates in young women.The CEO, Mark Zuckenburg, when asked about children and mental health said:
“The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,”
Seriously? Facebook was found by the Wall Street Journal to be suppressing their own research. It showed that Instagram knew they were causing “eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their own bodies and depression” among teen-age girls. Even though he knew the truth, Mark Zuckenburg was saying the opposite. We don’t need a congressional hearing to know the truth. Parents everywhere are concerned about the heavy screen use of our children and its effect on them.
Dr. Jordan Peterson, the psychologist and author, talks about raising our children to be “Exploratory Heroes”. He talks about the “hero’s journey” where the protagonist seeks a challenge or has a disaster happen to her, and then she forges through whatever is hard to win the victory. The real triumph is the hero comes home wiser and accomplished–a new and better creature. Think of the distance between those two points, hours on a screen with comparing and anguish and at the other end the hero–daring, determined and transformed. I remembered a time, in 1978 when I got to see an example of this–courage, strength, and a person determined to be the hero in her own story:
I peered into the darkened room, lit by only a few candles. Two of us were sitting and waiting as initiates to a social club at Brigham Young University. A solemn group of older women-only one or two years ahead of us– walked slowly in and faced us solemnly in a semicircle. Unbeknownst to us, they had a plan. I was going to be the victim because most of them knew my older brother. However, because I had started weeping as soon as we entered the room, they changed their strategy. Next to me Maria was sitting, and I watched as this group of elites turned on her and came up with small infractions she had supposedly made during the two grueling weeks of pledging. All this was to tell Maria she didn’t get accepted into the club. They were rejecting Maria!
When Maria heard that she didn’t get in, she stood up, her eyes blazing, and said in a way I will never forget, “You know what? That’s fine! Because without me in the group, YOU LOSE!” With that, Maria marched out of the room, slammed the door, and was half way down the block. Two of the group ran after her, letting her know it was part of the plan to pick one of us and not the other, but both of us actually made it in. The darkened room, the circle of older women, one of us being picked and the other rejected– it was all a show. University rules stated that no one could be left out, so we were put through grueling pledge activities that knocked out people naturally.
Maria’s speech and actions became a legend in our group. She was heralded as the champion for standing up and letting that club know that it was their loss, not hers. Forty-three years later, I still remember that whole experience vividly.
In my first semester of college, I was getting an education. I got to be an eye-witness to fearlessness–somebody not accepting what an older and supposedly wiser group had told her was true about her. She knew who she was, and she was reinforced steel on the inside and out. Yes, they would have lost if she wasn’t part. She was going to be just fine, and none of us have ever forgotten that lesson of forged determination.
Maria’s fortitude meant she was willing to suffer to reach her victory of self. It’s hard and uncomfortable to get to a place of inner-strength, to know what to stand up for, and be willing to do it.
We can fight the use of too much screen time/anxiety/depression, but we have to be intentional about it. We have to create attractive alternatives– showing how wonderful being outside is, access to good books and the search for character rich movies to watch together and talk about, so our children can see the struggles and the triumphs of others. We have to give our children mental models of the hero’s journey so they can be the hero in their own story, so they understand that everyone goes through hard things and if they are willing to suffer, the reward is great.