Social media is a slippery slop of a topic,
I will admit - the same goes for the internet as a whole - but social media is also not something that should be completely shut down and deemed as "evil". And as I see more and more parents and older generations on LinkedIn bash social media and technology for all the depression and anxiety it causes to younger generations, I couldn't help but just word vomit on how they couldn't be more wrong - to a degree.
I come from a generation currently known for quiet quitting, TikTok takeovers, and the new ruiners of everything - Gen Z - the "no hope for our future and generation" generation.
However, I'm also a part of that weird older grouping where most of my younger years didn't involve consistent use of technology. Of course, I remember VHS tapes, my family had a whole cabinet of them that my younger sister and I would go through and spend quite some time deciding what movie we wanted to watch: A Bug's Life, Cinderella, The Fox, and The Hound. I remember cassette tapes (and CDs) and playing Christmas music on an old stereo my parents had while we decorated the tree. I remember the little Mp3 player I had that took one AAA battery and could hold about 100 songs at a time.
And yet, I also didn't get my first cell phone until I was 13-14 years old, and it was a far cry from an iPhone. A little slide-up phone with blue trim that was twice as small as my current cell phone. You know - those phones where you had to press a button a couple of times to get to the letter "p"? I could text, I could call - and that was about it. I was starting to stay at home alone for the first time after school and my mom wanted me to have some quick form of communication - hence why I even got a cell phone in the first place. A tad more convenient than the landline we had more or less collecting dust on the kitchen counter - spam call central as I liked to call it.
Even with all of that, technology really wasn't a focal point in my childhood. My parents always encouraged us to play outside, my dad even coming out to throw a football around with my sister and me. We'd spend the entire day outside during the summer on the weekends when we weren't in daycare all day during the week. My sister and I riding our scooters, creating little roads to follow. Putting together make-shift baseball games with just the two of us using whatever we could find in the garage. When it was hot, we'd put the sprinkler outside and stand directly over it to simulate standing in a pool - which, of course, definitely did not work. Some days, I even remember just laying in the grass looking up at the sky and the clouds, desperately trying to find patterns and shapes in the abstract puffiness.
My most fond memories are when my sister and I did play outside all day, my dad coming out at some point to start the grill for dinner. The smell of BBQ chicken drifting with the breeze as my mom would call us inside. There was a window next to the dining table, the sun setting just out back behind the house as it created this otherworldy glow in the kitchen of burning oranges, yellows, and pinks. I remember going for walks with my family after with the promise of smores when we got back, if the coal in the grill was still going strong and hot.
And even with those VHS tapes sitting in that cabinet and my Mp3 player sitting - probably dead - in my bedroom, my childhood is still filled with all those memories, sunburns, and grassy knees.
Do you still believe I'm a part of Gen Z? My sister too?
While in middle school and high school, this is where I noticed technology start to become more prevalent in my day-to-day. My little black and blue slide-up phone was replaced with the first iPhone, and a discarded laptop from my dad's work found its way onto my bedroom desk. My Mp3 player, finally, swapped for an iPod Nano - the first piece of technology I saved the money for to buy myself. And still, it all wasn't the highlight of my day. Yes, I still played games on the iPhone on the bus ride home from school. Yes, I still used the iPod Nano on long car trips when I wanted to listen to Owl City. But, it wasn't a full-blown addiction, if I'd even call it that now.
What I'm puzzled about is - if it wasn't an issue then, why is it now?
The equivalent of the technology that was entering my life then is the same as the technology entering kids' lives now. New phones, new listening devices, new laptops, new shows on streaming platforms (new movies coming out on DVD for me). The concepts for all these technologies are the same, they've just evolved. It always has and will continue to do so.
And yet, older generations will always continue to put the blame elsewhere. Guess who encouraged my sister and me to go outside and play? My mom and dad. Guess who set rules and boundaries on the little joy-stick video game system we had at one point? My mom and dad. They still let us play on that console, still let us use our Mp3 players and laptops. But, we were encouraged to find entertainment in all places. I remember my sister and I even getting bored with the video games at some point and running off to play with our dolls - and transformer action figures, because why not? Bratz dolls looked cooler on a Bumble-Bee Comaro anyway.
So, why is that so hard now? Why are so many parents complaining about the screen time their kids have when they should be the ones in control to set boundaries? Why are parents not encouraging their kids to find the entertainment in everything so they don't feel like they have to keep resorting to technology? My parents did - and I'm still a Gen Z. You know, the generation obsessed with TikTok apparently?
Now, what about social media?
Social media platforms started to surface when I was in middle school. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and even Twitter was already out when I was just 9 years old. Now, I wasn't necessarily a MySpace person either, but I do remember my lifelong best friend and I sitting at her family's computer looking up whatever wacky YouTube video we could find. Early YouTube was a trip with Charlie the Unicorn, Charlie Bit My Finger, Draft Hands, animal videos, and even a singing cucumber animation I remember vividly to this day.
And of course, social media then compared to now is obviously different and yet still largely the same. And while social media has become such a consistent and prevalent aspect in our everyday lives, it still boggles me how much people are still either not used to it or convinced it's the be-all, end-all.
It's completely understandable for older generations, however, to not be as used to social media platforms and technology as a whole. They have gone the majority of their lives without both, and like a lot of the general population, tend to prefer the norm and routine they know. This is understandable as I have a good few routines and aspects of my life that I would much prefer to keep the same.
This, I believe, should also not give the automatic presumption that new things and technologies are bad. We are the creators and curators anyhow.
All of this essentially comes from a post I saw about a concerned mother referring to a study that found social media to be the leading cause of depression and anxiety in younger teens and generations. That this concerned mother forbids her kids to use social media and states that they're "in honors classes, play sports, and spend time with friends. They're not missing anything".
Now, I don't disagree with her completely. Social media is a large spreader of misinformation, societal expectations, influencers, and - to put it gently - idiots. False information, practices, scams, etc. are hella easy to fake and spread while behind the protection of a screen. At the same time, it's all inevitable. The internet is, quite literally, the wild west where pretty much anything and everything goes. But, I can't help but disagree with this concerned mother, as mentioned above, in that her kids are "not missing anything".
I was in honors in high school and made the Dean's List every semester (but 2) in college. I was in color guard all 4 years of high school, played soccer from 8 years old till I was 13, and was the president of a club in college. I went to all homecoming dances and prom in high school and did many many things with friends. I went to concerts and festivals, all while maintaining my grades and now hold a full-time job with my own apartment, manage my own expenses, and even travel to different parts of the country for work.
And I grew up with social media. And guess what else? My diagnosed anxiety and depression are actually not a byproduct of social media.
Now, I'm absolutely not saying that social media isn't a factor that can cause these mental health disorders. With the beforementioned societal expectations, the rapid spread of misinformation, and the low-key boasting of influencers - it's hard to pinpoint the cause of anxiety and depression to anything else.
It's being able to distinguish the difference between the internet and reality.
Thinking about it now, this is something I very much had to teach myself. At the same time, I do recall points in my teens when my parents also taught similar lessons. You have to be able to distinguish the difference between this and that. What is true and what is false. You research, you get second opinions, you have discussions, you figure it out. While they may not have had social media as the main base of their point, it was still something I could apply when I would see influencers flaunting their perfect lifestyles - encouraging the purchase of a product to make yourself better. Or when I'd come across a piece of information that really just didn't seem quite right.
Thinking about it now and how simple and general that lesson was - why doesn't it seem like parents are teaching their kids that now? Especially when it comes to the internet and social media. Is it because they can't distinguish all of that themselves? It would almost be ridiculous to assume so, right?
So, while I don't think this concerned mother's kids are really "missing anything", they're missing out on these really interesting forms of inspiration, motivation, and an unconventional sense of community.
Because, now stay with me here, social media can be curated.
I've never seen an uncoordinated dancing, and insanely cringe-worthy videos on TikTok. I've never seen a bad lip-sync on Instagram's Reels. And I've never seen horribly misinformed individuals do their daily rants on Twitter or Facebook - largely because Facebook is dead to me. Because social media can be curated, they have algorithms for a reason. If you want to see endless cat videos, only watch, like, and interact with cat videos. If you want your Instagram feed to be nothing but art, follow, like, and comment on art videos and accounts. If you are starting a workout journey or want to know what routines to do at the gym, follow, watch, and like workout channels and videos on YouTube.
It is really that easy.
My feeds consist of art-related, ocean/marine life, cute animals, video games, and active lifestyle/workout-based content. No pretentious influencers, no annoying politics, no crazy conspiracy theorists, no bad lip-syncs, or ads for beautifying and perfecting products to make me question my appearance in society today. This doesn't mean that I never come across this stuff, it just means I've taken the time and consideration to utilize social media and the algorithms they use to not include what I don't want to see. It's more for entertainment, not to fuel an obsession.
And I feel like a lot of people don't really know they can do that.
Algorithms aren't spontaneous or out of your control. It's all based on what you interact with, especially if it's something consistent. If you keep looking and stopping and engaging with brands, overall negativity, influencers, etc. - your social media feeds are going to see that pattern and only provide more of it - because you keep looking at it, right?
It's unbelievable to imagine a solution this easy, especially when it comes to social media and how vast it is. But, if the kids of this concerned mother want to get into - say, resin art - and want to join a community online to get inspiration on what resin to use, what molds are easy to start out with, etc. - how are they going to go about it? How would they know what's ok and not ok to interact with if they've never experienced or have been taught about being careful while on social media? It's easy to come up with the solution of physically going out somewhere to find all of this out - but, the world experienced a global pandemic just 3 years ago, where going out wasn't that simple. I'm not saying it's going to happen again to that extreme, but there needs to be options.
Shielding your children from something isn't going to keep them safe. Not introducing your children to technology and social media isn't going to ensure they'll never develop anxiety or depression. Reality can sometimes be just as harsh, situations outside of the virtual world can scar just as much to create anxious responses. It's all a matter of control, being conscious, curating, and knowledge.
Social media does have its benefits.
Social media is a great tool to utilize today in 2023. Many businesses, large or small, use social media as a way to communicate with their audiences and consumers. My company also utilizes social media that I maintain and post about our products, resources, and upcoming events that we're involved in. This creates a sense of community whether in a professional or social setting.
To be able to talk and virtually gather with a large community of people who have the same interests as you is an amazing thing to experience. To talk with someone in Europe about an artist you both like, or someone in Japan who likes the same music as you is an experience that is only brought closer and more accessible with the internet and social media.
Plus, it's an insight into other cultures, countries, and people. For example, I follow a woman on Instagram who is living my dream as an American living (for the past 2 years) in Italy. Now, I've recently traveled to Italy and only saw as much as I could in 8 days. And rather than be jealous of all of the stuff she's posting about, I am incredibly excited for her and love seeing all the foods, locations, and activities she's able to do. Because I've seen that culture and country and absolutely love that culture and country. It's a common interest that feels like I'm able to see and experience what I wasn't able to while I was there, through her. And if I ever get the chance to go back, I'll remember a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Florence she mentioned, and experience the amazing food she documented, for myself.
I've also taken up a passion project recently that utilizes social media like Instagram. Designing my own social posts and researching information on our oceans, marine life, and the conservation of our oceans while using Instagram as a platform. I don't have a lot of followers on this account, and there aren't many interactions with each post, but the project isn't about the account's popularity. It's about myself being able to research and create this year-long project about a topic I'm passionate about and love, all while enhancing my knowledge of social media and design skills. And if people take something from it, that's just icing on the cake.
And while there are the trolls and very rude and condescending people, there are communities out there that are supportive and inspiring. Seeing other people's journeys when it comes to weight loss, workout recommendations, diet, and food recommendations - it inspires and motivates knowing that everyone on the other side of their profile picture is a real person on their own path.
In the end, it's all about knowing how to distinguish reality from the internet. And knowing that it shouldn't control you when you have the power to put the phone down and find the entertainment in anything, for your kids, family, friends, and especially for yourself. Because social media? It's not going to go away anytime soon.
About the Creator
Young, living - thriving? Writing every emotion, idea, or dream that intrigues me enough to put into a long string of words for others to absorb - in the hopes that someone relates, understands, and appreciates.