We have spent the last ten years researching the issues that dominate the current news cycle. What impact do social media have on teen mental health? What are the advantages of growing up in a digital world? What is depressing or even poisonous, and who is it? We have talked to a number of teenagers about these topics. We created a book called “Behind Their Screens: What Teens Are Facing (And Adults Are Missing)” based on research with over 3,600 teens (due out next year from the MIT Press). We have worked with kids and families in a variety of settings, including schools, community centers, summer camps, and even hospitals. One key takeaway: we need to look about teen technology experiences via a much broader lens.
We need to concentrate on providing the finest HX (human experience) for teenagers. Focusing on HX allows us to communicate about, interact with, and create technology in ways that are in line with our human requirements. HX encourages us to go beyond the drawbacks of certain social media applications and consider their role in a teen’s life as a whole.
It is tempting to blame social media for all of a teen’s problems. Teens, on the other hand, require us to begin by asking and truly listening to their concerns, anxieties, and pleasures. What are their present weaknesses and challenges? What are the genuine sources of happiness, contentment, and connection? What aspects of technology enhance or detract from happiness? HX is all about what people see and how they interpret it. Workout videos motivate and promote healthy behaviors for one adolescent. These identical films reinforce a terrible feeling that they not fit enough, skinny enough, or “useful” enough for another youngster. As a result, “changing” algorithms and the information that kids see is necessary but not sufficient.
We held a series of co-design workshops with teenagers this summer. Our goal was to rethink how to approach and support digital well-being. One adolescent gave voice to a thought that struck a chord with many others.
“The grind” — “a culture of trying to be busy all the time… seeing everyone discussing what they’re doing and feeling like you’re not doing enough” — she defined the hardships of current teen experiences. Social media accelerate the continual and never-ending grinds.
Other teenagers informed us that the grind is the source of “pressure to achieve the most and spread myself thin.” It is a collection of requirements – a sense of having to do “the most” in several disciplines at the same time. There is a battle to “curate my own eccentric yet mainstream social media and real-life character,” as well as a battle “always look my best.” Almost everyone mentioned a social grind, such as the need to “always be socializing and posting about it so others know,” or “making sure that I’m sharing with a variety of people to indicate that I have a lot of friends,” and even “prioritizing social life over everything, even mental health.”
Despite the constant “fun,” teens also experience grinds related to academic pressure (as evidenced by people posting grades, test scores, or class schedules packed with AP courses) and acute career pressure (as evidenced by a sense of “constantly needing to prove that I have an important plan for my life”).
They spoke about the pressure to be well informed about current events and civic concerns, to be firm in their interests and identities, to be amusing and supportive as friends, and to do all of this while posting it on social media.
Teens are not all the same, and their daily grinds vary depending on their identities and circumstances. “Being an immigrant sort of puts a grind on me,” a kid who came to the United States remarked. An LGBT adolescent described a struggle with “the ‘proper’ way to be homosexual — expectations about how I dress and show myself.” The grind is, of course, about technology, but it is not only about technology. It is a clash of pressures that intertwined throughout development and amplified by browsing, scrolling, and publishing.
Using a wider HX lens raises issues about how we can assist kids in recalibrating their technological engagements. Adults and teenagers frequently engage in us-versus-them conflict over devices.
When we presume that teenagers want to be on their phones all day, we believe that it is our responsibility to save them from themselves. Teens, on the other hand, tell us otherwise on a regular basis.
“People are always addicted to their phones, but I am as well, and I despise it,” remarked a 15-year-old.” My phone keeps me from doing my homework and from enjoying the present time,” a 17-year-old remarked. “I’m aware that it’s an issue, so I’m attempting to restrict the amount of time I spend on my phone since hours and hours might pass while I’m talking to friends or like photographs on Instagram.”