The last nine years have often left Janice Taylor feeling like a voice of caution drowned out in the wilderness of social media.
The creator of Mazu, an app that helps young people safely transition to online life, been cautioning about social media addiction, and how it’s negatively impacting the mental health of children.
Taylor first started taking notice of the affect social media had on her own two children, now ages 11 and 14.
“Several years ago I started to look around at digital and social media and noticed there was no barrier to entry. Everyone can get in and are exposed to information that can go against our own family values, and create attitude behaviours that have consequences and go beyond those basic family values that most of us adhere to.”
One of those consequences, she says, is a recent surge in suicide rates, which she says is fed by a social media image of what a young person is supposed to be, an image of perfection that is both unrealistic, patently false for the purpose of marketing and wipes away a persons’s own sense of individuality and uniqueness.
“Social media often reflects one dimension of a person based on perfection, when the reality is all children are mult-faceted and unique. Not one thing describes who they are, they are bouquet of many things that make up who they are. But social media…reinforces negativity on steroids,” she said.
She cited a study released in the U.S. last week that reflected an overall, 25 per cent increase in suicide, with every state registering an increase in people taking their own lives compared to a decade ago.
While the study reflected on various mental health issues that are behind the suicide rate increase, Taylor feels what was missing was any correlation to social media addiction.
“For children, social media addiction is like pouring gasoline on wounds they already carry inside,” Taylor said.
“That’s why I feel there is such a sharp increase in suicide. Our youth addiction to social media creates a strong sense of reality around what they feel is the negative portion of themselves and it becomes a powerful message that is constantly reinforced.”
Taylor said from the beginning, spreading her message to others in the tech community was met with little support.
“It’s all about the economics. We are all told to drink the Kool-Aid and have the time of your life. How great it is to be connected to everyone in the world you know and many more you don’t know.
“But what I learned very quickly from my time working in the Silicon Valley environment it’s all about what you can make the most money at. What they figured out is how to steal away your personal time and attention, and make money at it.
“The rest of can think this is all free, and wow isn’t it great. But nothing is for free. You are the product. You are the rat in the experiment wheel. That may be okay for adults, but it’s not okay for our kids.”
Taylor said of late she is starting to her other voices besides hers in the high-tech wilderness starting to speak out about the damaging side-effects to our obsession of living our lives online.
“I am starting to see a fundamental shift in our attitude towards social media, which for me I have been waiting for nine years to see,” Taylor said.
“Social media is engineered to feed on your fears and insecurities. A system built on that premise will in time implode. And I think we are just starting finally to see the tip of the iceberg of that.”
When Taylor, a Kelowna resident born and raised in Regina, Sask., left the pharmaceutical industry to start up her own online business venture, the end result was mazufamily.com, a website built upon extolling positive family values, a social sharing and messaging platform for families.
She feels youth under the age of 15 should be limited in social media device use, and not spend their time on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or YouTube.
“I believe there is a direct correlation among the increase in suicide among teenage girls related to self-esteem and body issues, and increased acts of violence among teenage boys, and what they are exposed to through social media.”
Taylor said she understands how for parents, social media devices offer a diversion from the demands and stress of raising children 24/7. What we aim for with Mazu is to interject some balance between the love and fears in the lives of our children.
When it comes to being addicted to social media, there is an over-exposure to fear and not enough love.
“We don’t always need to be advertised to, sold to. There are times we may need or want that, but other times we don’t.”
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