You’ve surely heard of career coaching, life coaching, and relationship coaching. ‘Screen-free’ parenting coaching is a new addition to the category, with parents and schools in the U.S. employing experts to help them get their children away from screens. The fact that we’ve come to this clearly shows how bad our addiction to social media, and smartphones in general, has become. But it also raises an issue around how we are bringing up future generations, and how much access we give them to the many technologies we ourselves use daily.
We’ve all seen it, that glazed look kids get in their eyes when they’re staring at a screen at a restaurant, on the bus, anywhere, really, as long as they keep quiet. Not to say that parents are only using this as the new dummy, but, sometimes, it seems to be the easiest trick to calm young kids down. This fairly common phenomenon brought about the necessity for ‘screen consultants’. What are they here for? To remind parents what it was like to raise kids before the digital era. In the U.S., screen consultants are being invited to schools, places of religious significance, and homes in order to replace electronics with good old outdoor activities.
The first thing that bothers me about this new trend is how hypocritical it is coming from adults. We are hiring professionals to help raise our kids in a technology-free environment because we can’t set a good example ourselves. We’re so addicted to those devices that we actually have to be taught again, by professionals, what it’s like to maintain a healthy environment for our children outside of the virtual realm—where kids are free from the influence of Instagram, YouTube or Facebook. Although I would definitely put myself in the same category as those parents needing help, the simple realisation that I may require the same coaching if I ever have kids makes me very concerned about my future (and about my non-existent children’s future).
To get a better understanding of what ‘good’ screen coaching could bring to our messed up society, and to try to alleviate my concerns, I spoke to Gloria DeGaetano, who launched the Parent Coaching Institute and currently specialises in ‘curing’ screen addiction in families. She defines her job as a parent coach as “a highly trained, non-judgmental, caring professional”. Just like an accelerated uni course, parent coaches ‘train’ parents on a 3 month period through a series of 10 to 12 coaching conversations. By giving families specific and personalised tips for each unique situation, parent coaches offer more than your typical Parenting for Dummies.
So what’s the biggest challenge for parent coaches at the moment? Setting boundaries around screen time. Gloria DeGaetano has been helping parents with screen issues since the early 90s and wrote several books on the subject, but she told Screen Shot that “today we have an urgent crisis to effectively help families in this tech tsunami which is drowning both parents’ and kids’ personal agency and ability to use tech wisely”.
For obvious reasons, the more technologies we got in recent years, the worse our addiction to screens and social media became. Should we worry about it? DeGaetano believes so, stating that, “Children and teens’ habituated to screens miss out on other parts of living essential to their optimal development”. Thinking about the future and what new technologies could add to that problem, she commented, “In 15 years, screens may be obsolete because microchips, holograms, and other forms of AI not yet discovered may dominate the landscape. Who will be the innovative thinkers in that future?” and what exactly will we be addicted to then?
In the digital age, parents now have another weight to carry, one that their own parents never had to deal with. Screen consultants, as weird as their job title may sound, are a solution to kids’ worrying addiction to screens. But adults should also be taken into consideration in this matter. Who’s going to teach us how to cut down on our social media addiction and ‘care’ less about our online image? I don’t have the answer just yet, but until then, I asked Gloria for one last piece of advice, “Be You! With an unwavering belief in yourself, social media comparison can’t affect a healthy sense of identity. Nature is abundant in diversity for a reason—differences make sure life continues”. There you go: be you, be different.
Like most people, I check Instagram before going to sleep and do the same as soon as I wake up. Posting on the platform wouldn’t be that big of a deal for us if likes weren’t such a big part of the process. Likes control us as soon as we press the ‘post’ button—only after having gone through the long procedure of picking a good picture, filtering it, etc. What would it be like if this social media standard of measurement was taken out of the equation?
Last week, former Facebook executive and Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri announced that the company would be running tests in Canada on a new version of the app where users could still like posts but only the owner of the post would be able to see how many likes the picture got. It looks like the company wants people to go back to its roots—focusing on the content that we share instead of the amount of likes we receive. As nice as this sounds, coming from a social media company, it also seems too good to be true.
With apps like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, amongst others, likes do more than feed into our constant attention seeking behaviour and our comparison obsession. Likes help the algorithms that basically control those platforms decide which content to show first, or which ads a user is most likely to click on. This kind of data is not something easy to let go of. Even though likes are not planned to be completely removed, just hidden from other users, this new way of consuming social media content is bound to affect the way we show our appreciation for certain posts.
Social media adapts a herd mentality: when a picture that already has a lot of likes shows up on your timeline, you’re more inclined to double tap it than one that doesn’t have a lot or has none. Not only does it reinforce the problem of how we look for validation online, but it also affects our mental health. Even Kanye West said it last year in one of his rants on Twitter—social networks are damaging people’s mental health and we should be protected from knowing how many likes and followers we have.
For some of the younger users of Instagram, pressure to post often as well as like their friends’ photos quickly is part of growing up with the technology. Millennials’ social status is based on how many likes, comments, and followers they have. Changing this could be a first step towards ‘digital detox’, although comments could become the new likes.
This test could raise concern amongst celebrities and influencers, who have monetised on their popularity through sponsored posts, other types of ads and, obviously, likes. Hiding likes would make it harder for them to ‘go viral’ and see how much engagement a post receives. Instagram would only benefit now from making it harder for businesses and influencers to thrive on its platform, because people would praise them for trying to make it a safer environment.
What about in the long run? If users can’t imagine how influential you are because your likes count is secret, then advertisers and influencers will probably just find or create another platform where more money can be made through the perpetuation of this herd mentality.
Our relationship with social media, and as a result likes, has slowly turned into something bordering on unhealthy. Even though this possible new version might not be as dramatic as it sounds, it could still change a few things—for the app and for our mental health. We could go back to posting pictures just to share them with our friends, families (and fans for celebrities and influencers) just for fun. Today, social media is more about winning at life—let’s make it enjoyable again.