November 18, 2019

When Social Media Becomes Too Much — Even for a Teen

Photo by JKARRASTOCK/Getty Images

I’m 14 years old — and I’m sick and tired of social media.

Recently, I was going about my day and as usual decided to check my Snapchat. I opened one of my closest friend’s “Snapchat Stories” only to find out my entire group of friends was hanging out without me. It wasn’t like it was two or three of my friends; it was all of them. Maybe they thought I was still out of town? Still, I couldn’t help but feel a stab in my heart.

The biggest thing the pre-internet days had that I honestly envy is being oblivious to where all your friends are every minute of the day. Without looking at social media, if your friends got together without you, you wouldn’t necessarily know. Now, the things you are missing out on constantly are in your face. In addition to cyberbullying, catfishing and other important issues, I imagine many teens’ feelings of being left out lead to loneliness, depression and isolation. I know how I felt that day when all my friends were hanging out without me. It affected me. I can’t even imagine how horrible some kids must feel if they almost never get invited out or included.

Not only that, but it might be nice to have nothing to do in my spare time but enjoy friends and family in person or explore the world around me — like the kids in “Stranger Things” or “The Goonies.”

These days, the main reason many of us want to “explore” often is to take scenic or fun photos of what we are doing, then post it on our Instagram account. Not only does this send out the phony message that we have better things to do than “waste time sitting around all day on social media,” we are not fully living in the moment.

Having a lot of “friends” online may make people feel great about themselves. However, at the end of the day, while some people have thousands and thousands of “friends,” “likes” or subscribers, they may have no one to call in real life when they are feeling lonely, down or truly need a friend. Sitting behind a computer screen “talking” to people we barely know isn’t having a real relationship with anyone or creating a real sense of belonging.

The number of followers and “likes” teens have often is how they judge their popularity, which affects their self-esteem.

The number of followers and “likes” teens have often is how they judge their popularity, which affects their self-esteem. Kids who get a lot of “likes” on their posts obviously feel good about themselves, while kids who post and get few “likes” often feel embarrassed and unaccepted. I guess it’s that way for adults but adults are better equipped to handle the rejection. Not only that, but who teens are seen with on social media seems to affect their social statuses.

I was once at a pool party with a large group of teens I had just met. One girl in particular was extremely pretty and popular, and a bunch of the other girls kept wanting to take pictures with her to post online. It was pretty obvious they wanted to increase their social statuses by being seen with this particular person. This leads me to wonder whether people are hanging out together not because of true friendship but because it’s cool to be seen with a certain person or group of people on social media.

Party posts are the latest things to do. If someone is throwing a party, that party’s details are posted on a private Instagram page. People who want to attend the party have to request to join the page and either are accepted or rejected. Obviously, a teen would have to have high enough self-esteem to be able to ask to join in the first place, knowing they could be embarrassed by a rejection. I know a boy who got rejected from a party being planned and when he tried to join a second time, he could no longer find the post. Thinking he had been blocked, he was devastated. As it turned out, it was a misunderstanding: The party post had been deleted because the party had been canceled and he hadn’t been blocked after all. But it’s easy to see how something like this can turn out badly.

Keeping in mind that a lot of what is on social media is really just “for show” may alleviate some of the fear of missing out on the moments we all tend to have.

So why not just disconnect? I admit I’m conflicted. Would it be freeing or boring? Although it sometimes is tempting just to unplug, unplugging seems almost impossible to do. Almost everything these days is accessible online. At school, most teachers have websites where they post assignments, and those assignments usually are turned in via Google docs. Even textbooks often are online. Researching for reports and other school projects is right at your fingertips. With online shopping, email and even getting the news, the internet is not easy to simply walk away from.

Still, society is addicted. At concerts or sporting events, it’s hard not to notice that thousands of people are taking videos on their phones as opposed to being there in the moment. I am guilty of that, and concerts goers are not the only culprits. One of the main reasons my friends and I visited pop-up museums such as the Ice Cream Museum and the Museum of Illusions was to take a bunch of Instagrammable shots, rather than for the experiences themselves. These museums even had spots on the grounds showing us where the best angle to take our pictures would be.

Because many of us go places or do things just for photos, and because we post only the perfectly staged moments, everyone’s lives end up looking perfect. For people struggling in one way or another, seeing other people’s “perfect” lives can make them feel even worse. I’m certain that despite what people post, very few lives actually are perfect.

Something many adults are starting to realize is that most kids have multiple accounts — often at least three or four. 

My family was on a recent trip to Tokyo, and in the Shibuya area, there is a very famous crosswalk. The five of us walked halfway across the street and took some pictures in the crosswalk, then, as the signal started to blink, we ran for safety to the other side. I immediately checked my pictures and, of course, decided they weren’t quite good enough. Fifty crossings and 45 minutes later, I finally had the perfect picture to post. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, I was hot and tired, and my family was irritated with me because of the time I took trying to get the perfect shot.

If you ask parents about their kids’ social media use, most will say they always monitor their kids’ accounts. Something many adults are starting to realize is that most kids have multiple accounts — often at least three or four. So although parents may be monitoring their child’s account, they often have no idea the account they are monitoring is only one out of many accounts children might hide. As many parents also are learning, with Snapchat, there are “ for your eyes only” rooms that require separate passwords.

While some people have thousands and thousands of “friends,” “likes” or subscribers, they may have no one to call in real life when they are feeling lonely, down or truly need a friend.

Why not just delete the social media apps that seem to take up so much of my time? I haven’t taken this step because I would be the only person in my social circle without the apps — and everything seems to revolve around the world of social media. Deleting would mean I would not be in “the know” and I would not be connected to everyone in group chats.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of positives to the internet and social media. There are many times when I really do have fun texting my friends. Because it’s our main form of communication outside of school, it can even strengthen friendships. Group texting is a great way to communicate with multiple people at the same time.

Riley Jackson; Photo courtesy of Riley Jackson/ IMDb

I recently attended a small seminar my pediatrician encouraged her teen patients to attend on the overuse of social media. One parent in attendance felt that if anyone wanted to get ahold of his child badly enough, they would simply call on the telephone. Sadly, most teens are accustomed to texting or messaging through social media apps and are lazy when it comes to making the effort to communicate any other way. If I simply told my friends to call me, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t take that extra step; they would see it as me making things harder for them.

Social media does have positive aspects, such as the “ice bucket challenge” that went viral around the world and raised money to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Teens can learn about different cultures by following and friending kids from other parts of the world. There are GoFundMe pages for people in need, and if you want to learn how to do something, there often are great YouTube “how to” videos a click away. Sometimes, people even can find a certain amount of support from strangers.

I love seeing pictures of people’s trips on social media, and I love to create fun videos on the popular app TikTok (formerly known as Musical.ly). On many of these apps, there is a lot of room for self-expression and creativity, and you can find many other people with the same interests as you to collaborate. I recently spent an entire day making funny TikTok videos with my brothers and their friends — and they are in their 20s. Not only was it fun, but it was a great way to pair social media with “in person” bonding.

The most positive aspect for me probably is that social media keeps me connected with friends and family. I can stay in touch with my friends from elementary and middle school, now that many of us go to different high schools, and I get to stay in touch with my cousins and friends in other parts of the world.

Because many of us go places or do things just for photos, and because we post only the perfectly staged moments, everyone’s lives end up looking perfect.

Because we can’t really live without the internet these days, we can try to find balance. To avoid some of the pitfalls — such as our craving for likes or comments, wasting a beautiful day sitting inside on our phones or simply forgetting how to communicate face to face — maybe we can set self-imposed limits, where we allow ourselves a certain amount of screen time per day. There also is a way to set your phone to “app limits,” where you cannot access particular apps after a specific amount of screen time.

Another simple step would be to turn off notifications. Most of us have an almost addictive compulsion to hear the ding then need to know why we were sent a notification. If you have group chats going, that ding often sounds every 10 seconds. If you don’t hear the constant ding of your phone notifications, it makes it far less tempting to check to see who is trying to reach you at any given moment.

Keeping in mind that a lot of what is on social media is really just “for show” may alleviate some of the fear of missing out on the moments we all tend to have.

The big thing for me is that I am hoping to learn to balance the best of the social media with the real world, making sure that instead of worrying about what I’m missing, I make the most of every moment I’ve got.


Riley Jackson is a high school freshman in Los Angeles. She has a passion for the creative arts including acting, writing and music. She plans to join her school newspaper staff and is the founder of Driving With Daisy, a charity that supports underprivileged children.