Recently, I tried to tag a friend in a picture on social media. Her name didn’t pop up for tagging though. I tried a couple of times and then ran her name through the search function.
Nothing. It was like she was a ghost. I sent her a text asking if she quit Facebook. She immediately responded that yes, she quit Facebook and Instagram.
She explained her reasoning: she was spending way too much time on her phone, especially around her baby. When the baby had recently been sick and her husband was snuggling their child, she realized she was just scrolling through social media.
She quit then and there.
By the time I spoke with her, she had already been off social media for a few days. She admitted that she wants to be more fully present in her family’s life. She also said she actually read a book the other day for the first time in a while.
I empathize with her experience.
For the four years I was home with my daughters, I spent far too much time on social media. Initially, it was a way to keep myself connected to people when I was isolated with a newborn. I found that—despite being a passionate reader—I struggled to focus on a book and social media became my go to form of entertainment.
Then, I joined several parenting groups on Facebook and began to build communities with other moms. This drew my attention to my phone far too often. Eventually, when I started focusing on freelance writing, I used social media to research and promote my articles.
I frequently lamented the amount of time I spent on social media, but it was hard to break the addictive habit. I made an effort to put my phone down during meals with my children, but far too often found myself annoyed with them if they wouldn’t let me finish sharing a picture or commenting on a post.
The problem was I didn’t have much else to keep me connected and entertained during the long days at home with my children.
I was very much aware of my addiction, but struggled to break the habit. There just wasn’t enough at home to really stimulate me. Much as I love my children, they didn’t challenge me intellectually. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was hoping social media would offer me some sort of purpose—the same purpose I once got from having a career outside of the home.
Now that I’m working again, I have a much healthier relationship with my phone and social media. I am far too busy to constantly check my screen. I actually left most of the groups I had previously been in because I’m too busy for them.
I still check Facebook and Instagram and post pictures or comments on them, but more on the weekends than during the week. I tend to scroll through over breakfast in the morning, but after that my day is packed from the moment I get in my car to drive to work to the second my head hits the pillow at night.
I feel healthier about my disconnect. I haven’t taken the step to quitting entirely, because I’m no longer concerned about a screen addiction. I do keep my phone with me throughout the day to text my husband or in case my children need me, but it no longer occupies the majority of my time.
During the day, my only real downtime is during lunch when I eat with other faculty members. When I have a free period, I usually check my social media notifications briefly before focusing on grading homework or lesson planning. After school, I go right to picking my children up and then when we’re home, I steal 30 minutes to work out before dinner.
Once the kids are in bed, I usually have work to do or I find myself more drawn to a book or TV than any desire to find out what’s happening on my newsfeed.
I feel like I finally broke the addition because my life suddenly has more purpose and is more intellectually stimulating than it’s been in years. Rather than spending time worrying over a comment I posted on Facebook, my head is filled with current events articles or I am wondering what my students will think of Henry VIII.
This year, I am teaching a United States Government elective to seniors. We talk a lot about the role of social media in politics during class discussions. We spend much of our class time analyzing the disconnects between different political parties in this country as well. Recently, we spoke about the need for compromise in this country.
Our discussion was driven by a reading on the American Constitution. We talked about the Continental Convention of 1787, where America’s Founding Fathers spent a summer hashing out the document that shaped us as a country.
One key point was that these men were able to come to a compromise eventually. They argued and debated for months, but they also were able to look one another in the eyes and really listen to each other—something that is so hard to do when you’re hiding behind a screen.
It’s easy to be rude and disrespectful to the other side when you don’t have to make eye contact.
Facebook has become what one article called “a political echo chamber.” Essentially, whatever you click on, like and read informs what Facebook decides to share with you. People become so much more passionate about their beliefs being correct because our ideas are constantly reinforced. It’s hard to find articles from the other side when we’re too busy reading the ones that inform our personal views.
My students and I spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to read and listen to multiple viewpoints, something that is a struggle to do if you rely on social media for news and current events. I’m grateful that after a couple months of school that they are starting to expand their viewpoints and seek out articles that differ from their original beliefs.
I hope our discussions help them to understand the downside of social media.
There are many studies being done that point out how social media can impact our mental health. We have a constant fear of missing out, which draws us back to our feeds over and over. We can grow jealous of other people’s supposedly perfect lives. We can become socially isolated and depressed even as we are supposedly connecting with more people through social media.
I’ve become more aware of how much happier I am these days.
I’m sure this can mostly be attributed to being excited about my career, but I also know that my since my constant desire to check my social media pages has ebbed, I find it much easier to be present in the real life that is happening around me. I am more engaged with my children, more focused on my work and more devoted to spending time with friends in person.
There are many positive aspects to social media. I can’t see myself quitting entirely. I like to look for deals on shopping pages or check in on my favorite celebs on Instagram. I joined a Facebook community of teachers who all teach the same class that I do, which has helped to enhance my curriculum. I share articles I write on social media. I follow several favorite authors and keep in touch with long distance family members too.
All of these are a worthwhile use of my time, but they no longer form the core of my day. When discussing politics with my students, I often say that moderation is key. I’m glad I’ve reached a point in my life when my social media use is moderate instead of addictive.