If you were born after 1985, I’d guess that one of your first impulses after crawling into bed at night or after turning off the“snooze” alarm in the morning is to open up at least one of your favorite apps. Instagram, SnapChat, Tumblr, Vine… it might be hard to choose. You might even find yourself scrolling without really paying attention to what your screen is showing you. If this scenario doesn’t apply to you, I’d venture a guess that you’ve recently witnessed someone else doing it.
Social Media and
When it comes to social media and awareness, it’s much easier to think of its absence. We’ve seen the videos of unsuspecting users walking into fountains, holes in the ground, and other visible obstacles. The parodies have been sketched and run on TV. Between experts, public commentators, and comedians, an approaching society of mindless social media “robots” is not undetected.
And, if I’m being honest, I have to admit that I find myself pulling up social media more automatically than I’d like…
Waiting on someone at a crowded restaurant? Open an app.
“Relaxing” on the couch? Open an app.
Riding in the passenger seat of a car? Open an app.
I’ll even wince and admit to recently scrolling through Pinterest on my iPad and opening up Instagram on my iPhone. Two devices and two social media apps at the same time. When I caught myself and realized what I was doing, I put everything down and asked myself, “Am I happy in this moment?” The answer was a resounding, uncomfortable “No.”
It’s important to realize that happiness is not the absence of a strong negative emotion like anger, sadness, or fear. Happiness is it’s own state. And, while it would be unrealistic to expect to feel happy all the time (and, arguably, impossible), we have a choice in the activities we do in our free time and whether they contribute to our well being or not.
I’ve seen a major shift in the social media debate that is important to recognize. We’re no longer focusing on whether or not to allow teens to use social media. The debate is now how teens are using social media. This shift might be tough for some parents who are still concerned about the very real threats associated with social media. And, while those dangers still exist, the conversation must go beyond whether or not a teen has a social media account.
In my work with teens, I have the honor and the privilege of hearing views, feelings, thoughts, worries, and successes related to a wide range of topics. One of these topics is always social media. I enjoy taking off the “expert” hat and learning from teen clients about their use (or avoidance) of social media and awareness of what inspires, connects, and sometimes hurts as a result of that engagement.
Adolescence is a time of increased creativity, generativity, and social motivation. Social media, by design, is a rewarding and appealing outlet for these drives. Teens are not shying away from how to live in a modern social world and neither should we. While it might be tempting for parents to avoid the unknown or unfamiliar, it isn’t realistic. It’s ok if you don’t know what app is trending on the phones of local high school students. It is more important to focus on the culture of the app in order to understand its impact.
No download necessary
Whether you have an account or not, it’s not hard to see that social media has an impact on our daily lives and interactions. Let’s move away from the mindless robot images and start a conversation – not just between parents and teens – but between partners, friends, and family. Let’s try to introduce social media and awareness.
Wondering where to begin? Here are a few questions to consider:
- How do you use this app?
- What is the tone of the interaction?
- How many times do you open the app in an hour/day/week?
- How do you feel while creating something in the app?
- How do you feel after you share?
- With whom are you sharing? Is your audience public/global/private?
- What thoughts and feelings do you associate with the app?
- How does your body feel when the app is open (tense, relaxed, constricted)?
- How do you feel when you talk about the app?
- How do you feel when you think about deleting the app?
These questions are simply a starting place in an attempt to bring social media and awareness together. They don’t have answers that are set in stone. However, by considering the ways in which we engage with social media, we can gain a greater understanding of how we are spending our time and how we might or might not be contributing to our emotional and mental health.