It had been a long day — a day when some things at work didn’t go right, some things with the kids didn’t go right, and some things with my wife didn’t go right. After night fell and the house got quiet, I was about to scan FaceBook when I realized that wasn’t going to make me feel any better — namely because just about everything on FaceBook depicts things that did go right.
Visiting FaceBook, I found, wasn’t brightening my mood at all. In addition to feeling a little depressed after comparing my life to my friends, I was irked by the vitriolic political pronouncements (of course, only those I disagreed with) and generally annoyed by the seemingly never ending pictures of alcoholic beverages. I mean, why is it that 40-year olds are still proud of the fact they’ve managed to get served?
For now, for our purposes here, let’s stick to the first point about social media being a place where we often coming away feeling like we don’t measure up. Upon first reflection, I would get angry at the “phoniness” of those posting — I mean, we all know that life isn’t perfect; we’ve all known those married couples who go on and on about how much they love each other only to get divorced nary a month after their last blissful posting. We think — “phonies!”
But a little more thought softens this harsh judgment. For when I make, albeit limited, use of social medial for personal purposes, I’m not inclined to post about the fight I just had with my wife or the latest meltdown the kids had. I, like everyone else, post the pic of that one second during our fishing excursion when Tyler and Parker weren’t fighting, or throwing bait at each other, or all knotted up in line. I do what everyone else does (and probably cause someone out there to complain of how I’m painting the false picture of my perfect life).
So let’s take the blame off the people and put it where it belongs — on the medium. Social media is a never-ending photo album — and nobody puts unpleasant pics in a photo album. But when we look at a photo album we have no expectation to see the bad and the ugly, only the good. So we must apply the same standard to social media. It is NOT, in fact, an online diary telling all, but a cherry-picked accumulation of good times. And perhaps many of those times are not even as good as they appear.
As an adult, I’ve been able to work through this realization without too much fuss. I’ve identified my feelings, examined them and come to some conclusions. I’m able to either handle social media in a more healthy way or withdraw. It does not affect my day-to-day life.
But kids, especially adolescents, are not so lucky. Many of them truly believe they just don’t measure up with the online lives their peers are advertising on a minute-by-minute basis. And many of them are sinking ever deeper into depression as a result. I recently spoke to a friend who told me two of his children’s peers (one in high school and one in middle school) recently committed suicide. The first thing that came to my mind was the influence of social media. When I asked another dad in town what he thought of this seeming trend of disaffected and hopeless youth, the first thing out of his mouth (without me saying a word) was social media.
As parents, we simply must do a better job of explaining the dynamics of social media outlined above — the fact that it is neither a true representation of life to compare oneself against, nor a nefarious plot to only post the highlights. We need to talk about how it works, what it’s good for and what it’s not. We need to make this a continuous conversation, scroll through some feeds with them and talk about the postings. We need to talk about how they make us feel and maybe bring some humor into the whole thing.
As I’d said earlier, the dark side of social media snuck up on me — making me feel bad before I realized why. And don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I wanted bad things to happen to folks, not schadenfreude, but it just seemed I was the only one having a hard time.
Of course, this phenomenon can infect our professional lives. For not only in magazine articles and but in social media post after post, we see our colleagues accomplishing great things in a seemingly effortless way, while we struggle and fumble to make the sausage. Without some reflection that forces us to consume their victories with a grain of salt, they become unpalatable, leaving us nauseous and insecure about our own abilities.
This social media wave is not going away. If anything, we are going to be more connected, more documented, more “always on.” As such, it’s critical we get our minds around its merits and limitations; after which we must throw our kids a lifeline to mentally escape what can be a dangerous morass. And we must do this before more of those precious human beings drown.