Does social media have a negative effect on male peer-bonding?

Remember when….

Is it still ok for boys to be boys? Years ago, the obvious answer would be in the affirmative. Boys fight, boys run, boys leap, boys fall, boys pick themselves up, boys learn to look before leaping and take calculated risks as the adventure continues. They push themselves physically and emotionally with challenges that engage and excite them at their core all in the name of fun. All in all, being a boy is wonderful. But what makes these experiences worthy of passing into legend is the camaraderie fostered within that group of boys. Lifelong friends that start stories with “remember when….”.

Times have changed

It’s hard in 2022 to find children from ages 4 upward not fixated on the next big social media craze or online gaming challenge. Hearing the adventures from “back in the day” is just not going to compete with the instantly gratifying, hyper-sensory experience of the modern phone or tablet. But if I were to zero in on the positives, all this fingertip information has enabled children to acquire more knowledge than ever before without having to open the latest “Tell me Why” book on the shelf. There’s always an app for that.

Of course the debate on whether this is a good thing can easily rage on for some time: good information vs bad information, merits of instant vs delayed gratification, in-person communication vs efficient far reaching communication etc.. I’ll be happy to hear some more pros and cons in the comments section. But I guess for me it boils down to moderation and proper supervision.

At a cost

I can’t help but feel that this pivot into the virtual world stymies the innate instinct of boys and males to explore and interact with their environment and by so doing, undermine their development. The virtual world is less adapted to the traditional ways in which males bond, i.e. through physical activity and goal oriented, competitive activity like sports, pet projects and other interests. Somewhere within those times men open up to each other and have a safe space where they know they will be understood and not judged. And that’s a great thing.

Social media platforms, while providing the opportunity to meet and interact with a large number of people and friends, lacks the avenue for users to really engage with other human beings on a deeper level. It’s a quantity vs quality thing I suppose. It’s ease of use can also makes it the most attractive option for entertainment when compared to actually getting out the house and meeting up with a few friends. All it takes for that hit of dopamine is a few likes on a social media platform. All it takes to neutralize that dopamine is a few clicks to get lost watching pics of someone who only shows the parts of their life they want people to see regardless of how far removed it may be from their reality.

This is not what it means for boys to be boys.

Male peer-bonding is every man’s concern

While it may be tempting to dismiss this by saying males simply need to adapt to changing times and evolve, this approach to the problem does not consider the specific needs and preferences of males. And without an attitude of compassion for addressing issues affecting men and boys no matter how small, our boys and men will continue to have a harder time forming long term bonds with other males.

This is no small matter. Mental health and suicide among males is a heartbreaking and far more common than it should be yet it is tragically overlooked by authorities. More outreach programmes are needed but also we, the everyday males can reach out to our peers to seek help, offer help, plan fun activities and take on challenges together. Reach out to those younger than yourself to offer something. Reach out to the elders and show them that their wisdom is valuable. I think this will go a long way.

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