The year was 2004 and I was a Junior at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. I still remember sitting in my dorm room in Guffin Hall. My roommate, Stephanie, and I had our desks pushed up against each other so we could face one another while we worked on our computers. We signed up for Facebook at the same time using our student emails. That was the only way that the site would allow a new user. The only available friends to choose from were classmates from our college. It was very exciting.
For quite some time, the only way to stay current was to update your About Me section. After a bit, I got jealous of the few people who had profile pictures so I took my camera to a friend who taught me how to upload my pictures on to a thumb drive. Back at my dorm, I carefully selected the one that I wanted and was walking around with a hop in my step feeling super technologically savvy.
Fast forward to today and I just have to laugh at my primitive self. The current number of options to connect via social media is endless… and scary. I have a handful of great teenage girls in my life and I love seeing what they’re up to online. They’re so full of energy and adventure. They definitely keep me updated on which social media platforms are cool.
One thing that is hard to ignore is the sheer volume of photos and videos. I can only imagine that in order to achieve that amount of documentation, they must simply always have a phone in their hands. Always.
Now, many people have different social media personalities. Some like to share every little detail, good or bad. Some give a highlight reel of only the very best stuff. Others use their online presence as an outlet to vent. Even some just observe from afar and you forget that they’re even there. Most of these personalities, as I like to call them, vary widely among and across ages and genders. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to it with one glaring exception. The younger generation appears to overshare across the board.
I’m sitting here on the other end of the screen biting my nails for them. That horrible breakup looks so painful. Oh, I hope she doesn’t regret that tattoo. Is that his 4th cup of coffee today (as I’m doing the math in my head of the cost vs. minimum wage)? Yikes, they should probably be having that conversation in person.
Think back to when you were 16. Did you do anything you regret? Say anything you shouldn’t have? Act in a way you wish you could go back and change? Who knew about this thing that you did that you sorely wished you could undo? Your best friend? Your parents? Maybe 2 or 3 people at the most. Probably not the 3rd cousin of the kid you worked at Starbucks with for 3 weeks last summer.
I don’t remember a lot about high school (again, thank God) but I do remember that it was HARD. The importance of friendships, the fragility of relationships and simple immaturity made for a really messy recipe. There were also so many balls to juggle between school, sports, friends, a job and family. If you added in a boyfriend or girlfriend, that might as well have been 6 or 7 more balls to keep in the air. It was tough. Now I’m trying to imagine adding the stress of keeping up in the social media world to that circus and my mind begins to explode.
I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have an extra hand to hold my phone in! Sometimes I’ll go an entire day without taking any pictures. If I do manage to get my phone out to capture something, it’s pretty much just of my children. I’m not naïve enough to think that anyone wants to see as many pictures of them as I take so I probably fall into the category of a “Highlight Reel” person. I generally share when it’s something fun or out of the ordinary.
I’m also at a point in my life where I’m still making a lot of stupid mistakes. I do things I shouldn’t. I say things I definitely shouldn’t and I don’t think I’ll get to an age where I magically stop acting like a fool. However, I am old enough that I don’t default to social media as my primary mode of communication and for that I’m thankful. It means I get to pretend in front of my Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat world that I sort of have my crap together.
These teens, though. This is their culture. Can I say that? I realize it’s a choice but to some extent, you have to keep up or get left behind socially, academically and vocationally. You could argue that they need to be learning the ins and outs of these apps so that they can successfully work in Marketing or own their own businesses someday. Does that mean that everyone needs to see every silly mistake they make? No. There’s a balance and that’s for each kid and each family to figure out on their own.
I can only speak for myself and I say this. I’m SO glad that social media didn’t exist when I was in high school. I didn’t make my mistakes on a giant, virtual stage. I didn’t post something angry in the middle of a terrible day just because I needed to let off some steam. I have no idea what my political ideologies were back then but I’m glad I wasn’t sharing them with anyone as they most certainly have changed. I’ll be thinking long and hard about what my kids’ relationship with the internet is going to look like when that time comes.
Can I leave you sweet, teenage girls with one piece of advice? No, not advice. A request. I know you need to keep your phones in your hand so you don’t miss anything but can you just put them away while you’re in public bathrooms? Please? There might be a mom with a toddler trying to pee in private in one of those stalls. Asking for a friend.