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The Social Dilemma

Parents, Guardians, and other stakeholders:

Recently, I was told about a new documentary that was released at the end of August of this year on Netflix called “A Social Dilemma”.  I took an hour and a half one evening and watched it after encouragement from another staff member.  I was awestruck by the contents of this documentary.  Here is a summary of the film:

This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.

None of the information was surprising or even new since I have done quite a bit of study, reading, and observation of people over the last decade as smartphones have become almost universally introduced to students prior to coming to high school.  What struck me is that secular leaders in the tech industry were the ones sounding the alarm from a social perspective and not from a religious perspective.

If you have opportunity and access to a Netflix account, take the time to watch “the social dilemma”.  If you don’t have an account, or have friends with one that you could watch it with, then you can visit their site and read a few articles found describing the dilemma. Visit the link below.  

Ultimately, I want to begin a discussion about how we address these issues while adding in the impact social technology is having on the spiritual health of our students, staff, and families.  Feel free to call me (828) 989-2046 or email me if you would like to discuss this personally or if you have comments that might benefit everyone, please come back to this site and leave a comment after you have watched or read about this documentary. Hopefully we can start a meaningful discussion regarding a solution that involves all of our stakeholders.

Thank you for being a part of this ongoing discussion.

Phil Wilhelm

Currently, the comments are open and unmoderated. Please keep the discussion constructive and respectful of other people’s perspectives.

13 thoughts on “The Social Dilemma”

  1. Thank you for the opportunity to have a conversation about the appropriate use of cell phones at Fletcher Academy. I began working in youth ministry as a student at Fletcher Academy a couple of years ago (okay 28 years ago). Two of the church’s I have been the pastor of have had an academy on their campus and I have served as a Conference youth director and now I have two teenagers of my own. That is only to say, I know what a difficult conversation this is and am grateful for the courage being displayed in tackling it.

    I believe we must start with the end in mind, not simply what we want for them today, but what we want them to be like when they are our age and beyond. Fletcher’s vision statement says the school “exists to provide a distinctly Seventh-day Adventist education where spiritual development is bolstered with academic rigor, work skills, and character development that challenges our graduates to have a transforming influence in their world as disciples of Jesus.” I interpret that to mean that Fletcher aims to produce young people who have a deep relationship with Jesus and have been taught to use a variety of tools to spread the gospel. One of those tools must be technology.

    By definition vehicles are technology ( They are also the leading killer of teens according to the CDC ( Six teens between the ages of 16 and 19 dies every day in vehicle related accidents. Many more teens do inappropriate activities in their vehicle and drive themselves to inappropriate places.

    As adults who have grown up with vehicles, we understand the solution to this problem is not to ban teens from driving. While the Amish eschew motor vehicles, not having the ability to drive in most parts of the United States is a severe handicap. Because of this, we have set an age when teens can begin to learn to drive and another age when they can get a license, and still another age when they can drive alone after dark or with other teens. Responsible parents teach their children to drive and don’t expect the school to do all the educating. We understand that as we drive, our children are watching us and so we strive to be a good example of what it looks like to be a courteous, alert driver. We explain to our kids when they are passengers with us what we are doing and how to be a good driver. We pay for them to take driver’s ed. We place rules and expectations on their driving. When those rules are broken the result should be a loss or curtailing of driving privileges.

    None of us grew up with the kind of cell phone technology available to our children today. It is natural for us to want to get rid of something we survived quite well without. We see the harm that is being done and we naturally want to protect our children. The only problem is that cell phones are not going away. Unlike when we were growing up, today, cell phones are used to such an extent that those who do not have them are severely handicapped in our society. If we do not train our teens on how to use them, they will be left to teach themselves when they are beyond our reach, or they will be taught by their fellow teens.

    I fully support education, rules, and guidelines for the use of cell phones. I believe as parents we need to model proper cellphone etiquette, decorum, and Christian behavior from day 1 with our children, long before they are eligible to have their own. I personally don’t think young people should have a smart phone before 8th grade (I would wait for high school but want to personally teach my child before they go to a boarding school). I think when they get their first smart phone it should be locked down tighter than a drum with massive parental controls that are slowly eased away from as they show good and responsible behavior over the course of their high school experience.

    I would love to see Fletcher incorporate digital citizenship and proper cellphone usage into Bible and technology curriculums. I have appreciated the discussions and information I have already seen delivered during chapels and church services about movies and video games. I hope Fletcher will also have a thoughtful discussion with students about when cell phones should be put away and areas of the campus where they are off limits. I hope the conversation will be framed in the benefits of community, interpersonal relationships, and relationship with God and information will be shared about the problems that can arise from the improper use of technology.

    As the parent of dorm students, I am grateful that my children have cell phones. I miss them living with me but know they are where God wants them. I look forward to their calls when they have a few free minutes during the day. I love the video calls, their text messages and seeing the pictures of them with their friends. I am grateful to be able to provide input, answer questions, and in short, to still be able to parent my children from a distance.
    I imagine village parents also like the benefits of their child having a cell phone. Being able to know where they are, being able to call or text them, and the assurance that if their vehicle breaks down, they have a way to communicate. I imagine few village parents would be willing to sign an affidavit promising to not allow their village student to have a cell phone at all. That would really be the only practical way to eliminate cell phones at Fletcher. Otherwise, you simply have dorm students who are banned from cell phones and village students who use cell phones off campus creating a divided student body.

    We need to understand our kids will make mistakes along the way. Learning always involves mistakes in this broken world. There must be consequences as well as grace. We have to teach our kids how to get up and do better. As the discussion continues, I hope we will remember Fletcher’s vision and will teach our children how to use technology to be Jesus’ disciples. I want our kids to learn how to be in this world but not of it. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 NLT Thank you Fletcher for your partnership in this and I hope we will all be praying for God’s wisdom.

  2. The concern you have raised is my number-one concern for the youth of today. I as mother and teacher, I am regularly around many kids and their siblings and I see the magnetic pull that the devices have on them. I also see the incredible damage being done to their impressionable minds and social skills and emotional needs. Even though we, as parents, can and do restrict certain content and apps, the students expose each other to the very things we strive to protect them from.

    I agree with David Wright when he says that Fletcher needs to ban phones from the campus altogether. My niece and nephew attend an academy where devices are not allowed on campus, and I hear that students are more connected to each other and to God. I feel that this is the solution because allowing devices, then trying to greater limit their use and function will be very difficult, however, if Fletcher doesn’t go that direction, then here are my requests: I would like for Fletcher to require that parents install blocking technology and commit to maintaining it, and then I would like for Fletcher have periodic times in which someone verifies that the technology is still installed and functioning. Additionally, I would like to ask that Fletcher ban devices from the cafeteria, Ad Building, and on the bus. I’ll give one example as to why I say this: While students used to occupy their time in the bus chatting, singing, and playing games, they now quietly scroll through websites and social media, polluting their minds and damaging their social graces. Again, my first desire is to ban devices altogether, however.

  3. I believe this is a extremely important and nuanced conversation. I’ve been reflecting on my own experience with media over the past week and as a look back I have realized that changes in my media use have come as a result of spiritual growth.

    Thinking back the first interaction I had with what I consider social media was as a preteen in old school chat rooms. This started with yahoo and AOL in the 90s. The internet at this time was a very different place and dangerous content was less acceptable. In spite of this I was offered explicit content by a friend I made online. Our family computer was in a public place in the house and I remember being afraid someone would stop and read what was being said in the chat room and individual messages. I wonder what my 12 year old self would do today with the different things available. My parents were ignorant of what could be done with our computer and the internet beyond word processing and email. I was a early user of both MySpace and Facebook joining MySpace within the first year and Facebook when you still needed a edu email to join. I was early on Snapchat and yikyak. But joining yikyak as a adult I realized quickly that there was nothing good available there. I was by choice late to the Instagram party because I didn’t want another distraction. I later joined Instagram for professional purposes. In the last year I checked out tiktok for a little bit but soon deleted it. I now use Facebook and Instagram probably 70/30 for personal/professional stuff. I’ve also spent a lot of time playing phone video games but I won’t get into that.

    My family has a lot of addicts in it and I have definitely inherited some addictive/obsessive traits. I have waisted a lot of time on media as a child, teen, college student, and adult. Currently I use far less social media, movies, tv shows, games etc then I have since I was a preteen.

    If I look back at what caused change in my life around media I see two main influences. The first and least impactful was getting older. I would say 10% impact. Some things just don’t interest me as much (tiktok) or I realize there’s zero value (yikyak). The most impactful thing for my has been walking with Jesus. When I was 18 I made the personal choice. I have screwed up countless times in the last 19 years but along the journey with Jesus the things mentioned above have become less important and is some cases surrendered because of the problems they caused me.

    Personally I don’t think prohibition is the best approach. I believe discipleship is the most important. I also think we can do more to help our youth find stillness and balance. I talk to a lot of overwhelmed kids. Most of the time it seems to be their own doing but I don’t think we should expect teenagers to be balance without our help. Lastly I believe time in nature is extremely valuable for mental health. I believe this is a untapped resource at Fletcher.

  4. I do not have Netflix and was therefore unable to watch the video, but I did use youtube to follow several of the interviews with those involved in the movie and I have to say, I didn’t really realize how insidious social media was. I in fact blamed the user for their issues when in fact, it appears to be the purpose and model of social media to cause addiction.

    I think the real question is how to protect the students there at Fletcher. What changes can be made to stop those harmful effects from hurting the student body?

    – Putting blocking technology on the internet at Fletcher will not affect personal phones, which have their own internet sources.
    – Asking parents to put app blocking technology on the phones will only be partially effective, but might be a useful first step.
    – Limiting the children’s access to their devices to very small portions of the day will help them be less addicted as they are spending far less time being concerned with their phones, and is the method used by many, but would need to also include phones with long distance available for use as needed or the phones to be kept where there can be oversight for children to access them in unusual situations.
    – Educating the children about these things, letting them watch the video and the interview to help them understand that the adults in their lives are not out to get them but to protect them from the roaring lion that seeks to devour them. With that starting, a real dialogue in small groups would help keep this in the forefront of the children’s minds.
    – We must realize that children and even adults do not like their addictive substances to be taken away and we should expect some backlash.

    I look forward to hearing what others feel would be useful in protecting, educating, and helping our children as they grow to be successful, useful, Christian men and women.

  5. Sharlene Wedin-LeClerc

    Thank you for starting this important and courageous discussion. This is a discussion relevant for us all. I agree with many of the viewpoints already expressed and there are no easy answers. This is a complex issue that requires a thoughtful response. As a Clinical Psychologist, I am most alarmed at the detrimental effects social media has been found to have on emotional and social development and well-being. Research findings have been clear. While there are some benefits to social media (new learning and knowledge, opportunities for social connection), there are many detrimental effects including increased rates of depression, anxiety, negative self-comparison, and suicidality. Of course there are other risks associated with social media use (weight gain, sleep disturbance, exposure to inappropriate content, etc). Attached please find a statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding risks and benefits of social media on the health and well-being of children and adolescents. They also offer a tool and some suggestions for developing healthy interaction with social media. These may be useful to consider as Fletcher Academy explores options to reduce the negative effects and enhance the social and emotional development of students. As general principles, I think strategies that focus on developing self-management as well as focusing on increasing engagement opportunities, rather than restrictive strategies, would be most beneficial. After all, we are teaching our students how to develop the skills they will need to be equipped to handle social media and social interactions as they mature into adulthood. I think there are many practical steps in the provided guidance that are applicable to our homes as well as all members of the family.

  6. Thank you, Mr. Wilhelm, for talking about this. This has been a concern of mine for some time. Seven years ago I did a week of prayer at Fletcher Academy. Following that, met with a young man with a porn addiction for the rest of the school year. He opened my eyes to the severity of the problem on campus. Try as I might, I could not help him get beyond this issue because of the smartphones that were present in the dorms.

    Later, I did my doctoral project on Mobile Technology and it’s impact on relationships. It was then that I found Dr. Jean Twenge’s work in which she shows that between 2011-2012, (that was when smartphone usage passed the 50% mark) major changes were observed. There was a 50% spike in depression among teens, hanging out with friends (in person) dropped sharply, dating dropped off, lack of sleep spiked, shortening of attention span, and the addiction to the dopamine hit when checking one’s phone, not to mention the incredible access it gives our students to inappropriate content.

    I believe this is why Great Lakes Adventist Academy, Fountain View and other schools to not allowed students to have cellphones and instead provide plenty of long distance phones that they can use any time etc. I realize it is a challenging thing, but I would love to see our Adventist school follow their lead. I have been on mission trips with our students, and have observed that at first they don’t know what to do without their phones, but by the end of the trip, the students themselves say it was the best time socially they have had in a long time because of the absence of smartphones. Yes, our kids will be exposed to the dangers of technology someday and we need to have those conversations with them, but studies also show that the older a person is before their first exposure to pornography, the more they are disgusted by it and less likely to get hooked.

    I do not pretend to know all the answers to this more recent challenge. However, as a spiritual leader in this community, I feel taking away the device that is increasing depression, anxiety, suicide, and addictive behaviors, would be an enormous win for our young people.

    1. Teresa McGintey

      Taking the phone out of the equation would be my go to, but I am not sure how to do that being that my whole life is on this stupid device. I need to divorce myself from its use as well, not just my children. I see evidence of a lot of what was mentioned on the movie. I’m concerned about salvation for my family. God help us.

    2. Mr. Wilhelm, Is removing phones from the school for at least a majority of the time a possibility, or removing them altogether?

      1. My first reaction is to limit or remove exposure as much as possible as many have already mentioned. The reality that teens are in a sensitive period and still have developing brains makes this issue all the more concerning. However, I am reminded of how close these teens are to becoming adults and then being able to make their own decisions. With that said, I feel it would be most beneficial to educate students on this issue and ask them how they feel it should be addressed. The more they are part of the solution, the more the solution will stick with them into adulthood. I have observed that the more controlled a child/teen/adult feels, the more rebellion is triggered. If students were led to drench this issue in pray and seek God for solutions, their thoughts could be very powerful and have a lot more lasting personal buy in.

      2. It is possible to restrict the time in which phones are freely available for use. It would be a little bit difficult, but not impossible.

  7. This documentary confirmed issues I have witnessed in working with teens and raising teens that are apart of this generation Z group. I’ve encountered more teenagers (than what was once considered normal) in the past 5 years that seem to have no filter in how they talk boldly and rude to their elders and peers, which I’ve suspected being a result of exposure to social media. There seems to be a greater number of teens that over-react instantly to situations they don’t like. I believe social media is subtly training minds to have little patience, expecting information instantly at their literal finger tips, and people are loosing the ability to filter comments (haste words instead of weighing compassion) because they don’t witness/see the reaction of their hurtful words on the other side of the screen. We are the pioneer parents combating a new overwhelming technological culture influence. Even when we set phone/social media perimeters our kids still have easy access to their friends social media devices which may have little to no perimeters. Having on going discussions with our youth educating on the positives and the negatives of social media I believe never falls on deaf ears, even though they may not respond instantly as we wish. Suggestions stem from scripture “Train a child in the way he should go….” I believe we need to keep teaching how to use social media responsibly, by setting media time restrictions, having ongoing open conversations with our youth on what they are screen viewing, sharing stories that help support evidence of the dangers in social media and above all else, praying and leading our youth in keeping God first. A few points made in the documentary I appreciated – Humans are not made to handle interactions with 1,000s – millions of social circles, social media does not care who you are they care only about monetary gain, and this social media boom started around 2010/2011 and their has been a huge increase in pre teen and teen girl depression/suicides.
    Thanks for bringing light to this topic.

  8. I watched this and was obviously very concerned. My first reaction is to get rid of it all…but know that it’s not the solution. Being aware of the issue helps keep things in perspective. I would really like to see tightened regulations. In the mean time limiting consumption is the best thing I know to do.

  9. Robert D Nunnaley

    Thank you for bringing this subject back to the forefront. We have not seen the documentary “A Social Dilemma” but have been told by others to watch it. This is the number one subject of concern within the workforce as well. We will watch it and comment again after we have seen it.

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