Today I am providing a parent’s review of the Social Dilemma on Netflix. On my personal Facebook page a couple days ago I said, “Please watch the Social Dilemma on Facebook. That’s all.” I was asked if it was appropriate for kids.
I saw this question a number of times while other parents were considering watching the Social Dilemma with their kids, so I thought I would respond here.
A Parent’s Review of the Social Dilemma
My answer is pretty simple, YES! Please watch this documentary with your kids age 10 and up, earlier if your child already has a smart phone.
I watched this documentary with my husband. We decided to watch it again with our oldest two girls, age 11 and 13. Maybe we should have brought my 9 year old into the fold, but we thought he might just be bored with it.
If you are wondering what the Social Dilemma is even about, I would encourage you to watch the official trailer here:
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Essentially, this documentary is about the power social media plays in our lives to influence the way we think and feel. Interviewing top former executives at Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and more, it reveals the tactics used to keep us connected – even addicted – to our devices so that they can make more money.
In the algorithms they create, the information we are fed greatly influences our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This impacts not only us individually, but it greatly affects society as a whole.
Is there Content in the Social Dilemma that Would be Concerning for Kids to See?
There are a few mature topics parents and care givers she be aware of so they can be cognizant of conversations that might arise. All of these topics were addressed with class and discretion.
There is mention of both suicide and cutting, with a graph showing the increase in these harmful behaviors since social media became a player in our children’s lives.
There are scenes of rioting. It’s no different and even more tame than what you’d see on the news. The rioting and protesting shown is not graphic.
There is mention of Pizzagate, which involves the concept of pedophilia and human trafficking. That said, they do not use the word sex or pedophilia. The term “human trafficking” is used.
We paused the show at this time as there was some confusion with my 11 year old as to what Pizzagate was. COVID interrupted our planned girls’ trip to talk about sex, so her knowledge is very limited. We explained Pizzagate as, “People believed (and still do) that there were children being held in the basement of a pizza restaurant, and a man went in to that restaurant with a gun to try and free the children he believed were being trapped there.”
There is no graphic imagery. There is mention of how social media and cell phones can be likened to addiction to drugs. The language includes a s–t, damn and uses of the Lord’s name in vain.
How We Do Cell Phones and Social Media with our Children
We are definitely on the conservative end of cell phone and media usage, and I’ll tell you why. It’s damaging.
In this article, I explained why we are facing an epidemic with our kids when it comes to smart phone use and social media exposure. These claims were backed up with many scientific studies. Based on all the kids with cell phones I see around me, I believe we are ignoring a huge problem.
Our counselor has said, based on his expertise in studying the brain and experience in counseling, he believes kids should not have a cell phone until high school and only a flip phone at that time.
Another friend I know who is a counselor said in response to this post on Facebook, “I say this OFTEN: If the students I work with (in counseling) didn’t have a cell phone – I wouldn’t have a job. Talk to your kids. Take their phones.”
I have a 9, 11 and 13 year old, and none of them have their own phones. They each have a phone that they can ask to use at times. None of these phones have social media. We can lock them on music or on a game or texting. They do ask to text friends, which we allow. The phones are rarely used and only with permission.
The kids know I have access to these phones at any time. I monitor what they are doing.
Beyond phones, any computers or iPads our family owns are to stay in public areas of the house. With online schooling, we have allowed our daughter to be in her room when school is in session, as we have multiple kids on computers.
I know these choices seem extreme to some. My kids really are different from most of their peers in this area of their lives. I’m OK with that.
It is a battle because there’s a lot of pressure around. This IS how kids connect with one another. They are left out if they are not on social media.
Also, I want to be the one to help my children create their own personal boundaries rather than force those boundaries on them. There is the fear that there will be rebellion because I’m too restrictive in areas.
I want them to learn to navigate social media and phone use under my roof.
It’s a constant tug-of-war in parenting to make these kinds of decisions and balance the pros and cons of hard parenting choices.
All that said, based on what I observe working with high school students, see in other kids and hear from professionals, I am going to be conservative in this area. Our kids’ minds are at stake, and I’m not going to gamble with that for convenience or fear of them missing out.
Further, I’m super intentional about inviting people in to our home. I want to be the hangout place. My desire is to have my kids have real social interaction in meaningful, in-person ways. We have a loud house full of outdoor play, baking together, games, crafts and more. I want to see people disconnect from their devices and connect with one another.
Why Families Should Watch the Social Dilemma with Kids
I am encouraging everyone to watch the Social Dilemma, especially in such a time as this. Where there is much division, pain and tension in our world, it is important to examine and be conscience of how we are being influenced by the screens we are so tied to, and yes, I’m guilty too.
In our family, I want to create buy in. It is important to teach the why behind the decisions we make.
When I wrote about the epidemic we have with screens, I had my 13 year old read it. She began fighting me less for a phone because she could understand my why.
Watching the Social Dilemma together helps the kids recognize the psychology behind their draw to the screen. They have a couple of games on their phones, like “Tom Gold Run,” that gives them notifications and promise of reward if they just get on to collect gold or watch an ad to get more life.
When the documentary talks about the power of random reward – like a slot machine or those rats you learn about in psychology class that hit the lever more when the reward was random rather than consistent – my girls could see it in themselves. There is a draw to our phones, wondering what little reward and hit of dopamine it’s going to offer us next.
We paused at times in the movie to explain or extrapolate more on concepts.
The kids, on their own, mid-movie wanted to get their barely used phones and turn off every notification. They became consciously aware was begging for their attention. Further, they deleted certain games and apps. We didn’t tell them they had to do this.
Buy in. It’s what we need from our kids so that this isn’t an ugly mom dictator making up rules that don’t make sense. The boundaries are created for a reason.
Another reason to watch the Social Dilemma together is to engage in good discussion about relevant topics. How are we influenced by what others think of us? Are there greater factors that impact how we think? How much control can we have over our own mind and our own psychology? How is our brain altered by the things we choose to feed it?
Big topics. Big discussions. That’s a win.
I also think the Social Dilemma is important to watch because we need to self-reflect. I need to self-reflect. There is a draw. I recognize my own addictions and weaknesses in this area.
How can I better model a healthy balance with my phone? Are my thoughts being formed by the algorithm that creates a “preaching to the choir” response?
I tend to be a bit of a moderate. I see the far right, and I see the far left. On my Facebook feed I hear the cries from both sides. I tend to think that both sides have good points.
Our minds our influenced if we only listen to Fox News or CNN. Our social media is giving us exactly that, one side of the argument – the one we gravitate toward – and it is polarizing our nation. To see it, recognize it and respond to it is important.
It takes an awareness of how social media, other media and search engine algorithms work. Because of my job as a blogger, I have been aware of these algorithms at work, but I have never thought of them at the level the Social Dilemma reveals.
It’s time for self-reflection on what we need to change personally to have a healthy relationship to the devices that might be right now controlling us.
This is a time to also consider social media as a society. What pressure do we put on the media companies to have integrity in their business model?
What Should Our Personal Response Be to the Social Dilemma?
Awareness is the first key. Watch the Social Dilemma. Reflect.
Talk about it. Have these conversations with your kids, friends and family. Does this documentary hold water or is it just a fear based response to change in our society and technology in general?
We are in a world of technology. Do we learn to embrace it, villainize it or both? I tend to be in the both category, but I do believe our kids are exposed too young and too liberally. Their brains are still forming, and if I, as an adult, am struggling, I cannot imagine the impact it has on young minds.
If we are to find the balance and not give up social media right away, one thing you can do is balance your feed.
In the documentary it is stated that fake news spreads 6 times faster than real news. It also shows the political extremes that tend to be propagated on social media.
Further, it reveals how the matrix created by the social media platforms continues to spoon feed us what we gravitate toward naturally.
The formula is calculating what we click on, what we watch, how much time we spend on each component of our media feed. What makes us pause? What makes us take notice? What makes us share?
Knowing all that, one action you can take rather than deleting accounts all together, is to keep your media feed full of things that are full of love, positivity, kindness, truth and hope.
At my Facebook page, I have tried to stay away from politics. I try to provide real resources to help you tackle this important role of being a parent. I want to provide encouragement, help and hope. That said, if it is healthier for you to be off Facebook, please do that. If you are on Facebook or other forms of social media, pause on, share, like the things that bring joy rather than division in this world.
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There is definitely a time for speaking and sharing the truth IN LOVE, but these conversations are best done in person.
Another action point taken from the documentary is to turn off your notifications. It was the first step both my husband and my kids wanted to do while watching. The draw is real, and we all could recognize it.
Social media and technology are not going away. We do need to learn how to have a symbiotic relationship with it. There is a healthy balance to find, but it takes much self-control, and each individual has to recognize in themselves the weight the media has in their own lives. It’s going to be different for each of us.
The Social Dilemma on Netflix provides the opportunities to create awareness and make decisions so that we can be healthy, productive citizens rather than be a people that self-destruct.
For more from the Social Dilemma.