The Right Question
The Question We've Stopped Asking About Teen-Agers and Social Media by Cal Newport
The New Yorker, November 9, 2021
The discourse around teenage users of social media has been unfortunately swept up in the larger political conversation around social media, but in this article, scholar Cal Newport refocuses readers on a fundamental question: should kids be using these services at all? Newport consults four experts with a range of opinions, and in doing so, provides a comprehensive overview of the landscape of emerging understanding of the effects of social media on teens. For schools looking to better grasp how teens use social media, how social media affects teens, and how social media uses teens, there is a lot to learn from Newport's nuanced analysis about the state of the research. At the same time, the data itself is inconclusive, in part because "humans are complicated," an insight that school folks will undoubtedly affirm. Newport also cautions that the absence of conclusive data on the effects of social media does not mean that educators and parents shouldn't be concerned, noting the similarities between social media effects and tobacco use. The upshot here is that educators have a duty to help students and families better understand the potential effects of social media use; we can start by focusing on the right question.