Teenagers of the 80’s, let’s go back.
Do you remember the days of stretching that phone cord as far as we could so we could talk quietly to our friend or boyfriend? Hoping it could reach to the bathroom so you could close the door? Remember the day you got your own phone in your room? I clearly remember Sunday nights in my bed, having long conversations with my dear friend Laura – that phone attached to my ear, as we would talk about all of the crazy things that happened over the weekend.
My high school days were hard sometimes. I’m sure all of ours were. But life was simpler. We passed our notes back and forth during the school day, trying not to get caught. We had lots of laughs, lots of sleepovers, lots of late night talks.
That’s how we lived. We talked. We wrote. We played. We were in community. And my memories are good.
Fast forward to life as a teenager in 2017…
Although my daughter doesn’t start high school until next year, I have watched something over these last few years that startles me more and more every day. It’s so foreign to the world we grew up in. We’re all living in it now, from young to old – me ABSOLUTELY included. This virtual world of instant ‘gratification’ communication. A life in pictures. A running story, or stream. Life on video, at all times, for some. Is anyone else but me curious as to who is watching a child that is constantly videoing on Snapchat?
As my daughter begged for Instagram a couple of years ago, we finally allowed it at the age of 12. We were strict about the rules – what could and could not be shared. We had constant conversation. We talked to her about how her images could make other people feel. She, in turn, had much respect for the process. She asked before posting anything. But along with that, she began sharing with me all that she was seeing. The secondary Instagram, or spam accounts that the kids started creating. The pictures they were posting on both feeds. The focus on self, that even she was startled by. Her goal was always to share fun pictures about her life – our vacation to the beach, our trip to New York, our super awesome puppy. But what she began to become overtaken with is a word that many of us know well – ANXIETY. I believe that Instagram was a catalyst to a 13th year filled with anxiety, which eventually turned severe.
In the summer of 2017, she came to me and said, “Mom, after our vacation, I want to delete Instagram.” “OK,” was my response, “Tell me more.” She explained how other’s pictures and posts were making her feel – left out, sad and frustrated. She said that in turn, she realized she didn’t want to make anyone feel this same way by the things she posted.
Well of course, YES.
Although Instagram was her only social media app, it still provided a window and a connection to the world. The window is now closed, completely her doing, which I’m grateful. But I also feel it’s important to share the other side.
Sadness has overtaken me here because what I see is a double-edged sword. A sweet mind that was flooded with anxious thoughts – is improved by the removal. But a life of connection to friends has absolutely suffered. She has seen that although her friendships remain, her inclusion does not. And I absolutely believe that even if it is just a small percentage, it has something to do with her removal of social media. Her exclusion from a virtual life has carried over to real life. The way she must remain connected to friends is much different than the way most of them are staying connected. The late night phone calls to catch up on the events of the weekend – do they happen? Not the way they used to. If you missed the stream, you just miss it.
My daughter will absolutely find her way and it will be beautiful. This I know.
As a parent, I urge you to have important conversations with your teenagers about their social media accounts. Monitor them. Talk to them about empathetic posting, thinking about others before self. And are they working to maintain relationships outside of a virtual world?
I long for the days of long phone cords stretched into the bathrooms; for conversations around a table; for sleepovers without Snapchat; for board games and barbies (I will definitely admit that Lisa and I were likely still playing Barbies at 13).
I am sad for the child that doesn’t know how to live without recording to their Snapchat stream. And I’m sad for the people that feel they need to watch.
“In a world where everyone is overexposed, the coolest thing you can do is remain a mystery.”
Our world has changed. Our children are suffering. For it to stay healthy, we have to continue healthy conversations and put up healthy boundaries. They appear to be fading, fast.
Let’s help our kids.