This is a guest post by Ethan Rosenberg a rising senior at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in New York City, originally posted on Forbes.com.
The constant battle between parents and teens these days is not over using the car or staying out late or even talking on the phone. It’s about time spent online. And here’s the thing – as a teen, I’ve realized this time the parents are actually right. How’d I reach this conclusion? Was it nagging? Was it threats? Nope. Four weeks without internet. I spent the past month as a counselor at a summer camp counselor in rural New Hampshire. Completely off the grid. And guess what? I loved it.
Everybody does it, all the time
A 2012 Pew study concluded that 94% of teens use Facebook FB +0.16%, 31% use Twitter, and 28% use Instagram. And we’re using these social networks for an average of 1.6 hours per day. At my high school in New York City, most of my classmates, instead of talking face to face in the hallway in between classes, are absorbed in their phones texting, Snapchatting, or posting to Instagram. Obsessed with their online “social life,” they avoid real world interactions with their peers -- even if they’re standing literally three feet away.
It’s really easy, and really satisfying
Why are teens so consumed with their virtual selves? It provides an instant reward. Within minutes of posting a picture on Instagram, a user can easily get more than 20 “likes.” This has become a substitute for the kind of real life feedback that used to make a teen feel “popular.” Sites like Facebook and Instagram act like a virtual high school cafeteria. At my school, I spoke to a couple of middle schoolers about their use of social media. Some had Facebook, many had Snapchat, and nearly all were on Instagram. When I asked one girl how many Snapchats she sends a day on average, I thought, “twenty or thirty max.” But wow, since getting a Snapchat seven months earlier, she had sent 24,000 snaps, averaging 114 per day. So much for actually communicating with people face to face.
We’re literally addicted
Studies show that spending time on social media can be as addictive as drugs – and I believe it. According to research by Dr. Delinah Hurwitz, a California State University at Northridge professor of psychology: “People become hooked [on social media] because endorphins, a chemical produced by the body that acts as a sedative, rush through th[e] person’s brain and body every time someone responds to their post.”
This summer, I left New York to be a camp counselor at a camp in Piermont, NH. It’s in the middle of the White Mountains, twenty minutes from the nearest cell reception. And no Internet. My initial reaction? Oh crap. No texting. No emailing. No Facebook.
But guess what? I loved it. It was the greatest thing ever. I began to realize how I actually didn’t miss looking at random pictures and stupid (no offense, but they are) posts by people I kinda sorta might of once met at that party. Or the days sucked up by the Internet where somehow three hours just disappears and all I did was look at Facebook and troll useless Youtube videos.
What’d I do instead? I played Ultimate Frisbee and exchanged stories with friends. I put on ridiculous skits in the dining hall. I taught kids how to sail. I hiked mountains. I scared my campers with ghost stories. I played darts long into the night. I invented new games. All of this, without social media. It wasn’t virtual. It was real. And it was awesome.
My advice to parents? Don’t nag your kids about their constant tweeting or snapchatting. Don’t just tell them to get offline. That won’t work. What will? Give them ideas for what to do instead. Ride a bike. Go to camp. Rent a sailboat. Experience the world. And don’t put it on Facebook or Instagram. Tell your friends in person, when you get back.