Instagram. Twitter. Snapchat. Facebook. Every one looks like they are having the best day ever, all the time.
I’ve always considered myself a bit of a social media novice. Just when I thought I knew everything about a specific app, they come out with a different update.
In preparation for this blog, I tried to do some research from my fellow followers. I posed two simple questions on all of my social media pages and I only got two responses. My questions were, “How does social media make you feel when you go on it?” and “Why do you go on social media?” At first, I thought I was the reason that no one was responding, but then I realized that social media sites, in today’s society, are not being used the way they were initially intended to be used.
The point of social media was and is to be social. The Merriam-Webster definition for social is “of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society.”Social media used to be a convenient way to connect with like-minded individuals and professionals beyond the traditional networking activities. But it has transformed into something much different and it can become difficult to wade through the clamor of trivial updates, conversations, and video links in order to find an oasis of real conversation promising the development of strong relationships.
Before Social Media
In the days before social media, magazines and advertising were criticized for upholding dangerously unrealistic standards of success and beauty, but at least it was acknowledged that they were idealized. The models wearing Size 0 clothing were just that: models. And even they are made-up, retouched, and Photoshopped.
These days, however, the impossible standards are set much closer to home, not by celebrities and models but by classmates/coworkers and friends. With social media, people can curate their lives, and the resulting feeds read like highlight reels, showing only the best and most enviable moments while concealing efforts, struggles, and the merely ordinary aspects of day-to-day life. And there’s evidence that those images are causing distress for many people. This kind of behavior is especially prevalent in teens.
The fallout from these unrealistic standards becomes more dangerous once kids reach college, where they face higher stakes, harder work, and a largely parent-free environment. They are using social media to impress new peers and are not really looking to speak or engage with family or friends back home.
The number of college aged students committing suicide is astronomical and it is mostly because they are trying to portray this “perfect” social media presence when they are actually struggling emotionally. Researchers at Stanford University coined the phrase “duck syndrome.” The term refers to the way a duck appears to glide effortlessly across a pond while below the surface its feet work frantically, invisibly struggling to stay afloat.
For kids experiencing anxiety or depression, carefully edited feeds can act as a smoke screen, masking serious issues behind pretend perfection and making it harder for parents or friends to see that they need help. Teens who have created idealized online personas may feel frustrated and depressed at the gap between who they pretend to be online and who they truly are.
Another, more prevalent problem, is that for some teens their social feeds can become fuel for negative feelings they have about themselves. Kids struggling with self-doubt read into their friends’ images and point out what they feel they are lacking.
Adults on Social Media
I talked to adults with social media and the overall theme that I got from them was that going on social media was stressful, overwhelming, and a distraction, but they can’t seem to detach themselves from them. I had someone tell me that they don’t feel safe at times on some of these social media sites, especially when it comes to posting pictures of their child. The ease of access to information can be very frightening, especially when it lands in the wrong hands. I had another person tell me that they tried to delete all of their social media sites and was not able to completely detach because they used these social media sites to communicate with coworkers. This, I feel, is what social media was intended for. To communicate with people, not just to share content. I had another person tell me that when they are on social media sometimes they feel great and other times they just feel lost. When I heard this, this prompted me to do more research on how to help others build a safe and reasonable social media relationship. Mental health, as I’ve said before, is so important. Don’t suffer in silence.
Here are some tips to help yourself and others build a safe and reasonable social media relationship:
1. Take social media seriously
Don’t underestimate the role social media plays in the lives of teenagers and adults. Always remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. Those words can be conjured up by any person looking at these images. The power of a visual image is so strong and can be disorienting. Many of today’s young people never knew a world where social media didn’t exist and things that happen online are very real. When talking about social media make sure you’re really listening and be careful not to dismiss or minimize experiences.
2. Think outside the box
Encourage yourself and others to explore social media in a more critical way. Start by thinking about what may have been cropped or edited in those “perfect” pictures you see and why they were edited or cropped. Dig deeper by asking yourself, “Do you think your friends are really the people they appear to be online? Are you? What’s the purpose of posting a photo? What is it like about getting ‘likes’ that feels good? Does looking at social media affect your mood?”
3. Model a healthy response to failure
It is okay to fail. It is also okay to show that you failed. I, for one, used this blog platform to disclose my failures to hopefully help another person do the same thing. Failure is part of how we learn to succeed. There is nothing to be ashamed of pick yourself and try again.
4. Praise effort
Effort is something to be proud of. Make sure you are praising yourself in the good times AND in the bad times. Be an example for your friends and family that it is okay to fail and be proud of yourself for getting through that situation.
5. Go on a “social holiday”
If you’re worried that you are getting too wrapped up in social media, try taking a social holiday. In November, I went on a cruise and had the option to pay for the wifi on the ship. I decided not to pay for it and it was the best decision I ever made. I was able to truly relax and detach from the all of the negativity that has permeated social media.
6. Trust people, not pictures
Don’t rely on social media to let you know how you and others are really doing. You may be posting smiling selfies all day long, but if you feel yourself starting to get unhappy, don’t let it go. Don’t put up a fake persona to convince yourself to be happy. Try to work through your issues and come up with a solution to being genuinely happy. Even if that means taking a social holiday.
If you ever need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You don’t have to go through it alone.