A good friend and I were talking the other day about the internet and about how she should or should not monitor her kids’ online activity. And like everyone else, she was very worried about strangers online and her kids being taken advantage of by skeezy, horrible people like you see on lifetime movie network (not Meredith Baxter Birney though, she’s the shit). And it got me thinking, we are all so worried about the strangers our kids could meet online and the dangerous hands they can fall into when in reality, it is most often their own hands that are the danger.
In this world we’ve created, we are now rated by how many likes or comments we got on a selfie we took in the bathroom mirror. We are judged and ranked by the number of followers we have on twitter or tumblr. We neurotically watch our friend list to make sure no one “unfriended” us in the middle of the night. And as adults, most of us know that there is so much more than getting likes or followers or whatevers but our kids don’t see that. They think that all it takes for a person to be “famous” is to have a million followers on some social media network. Forget about the fact that most of those likes and follows are fabricated and mean absolutely nothing, this is everything to our kids as all they want is to stand out, to be noticed, to be special. And when your self worth, esteem, and confidence are based on how many likes you got on your face, you can see how easy it is to get down on yourself.
We are taught in life to look beyond appearances. We are taught that beauty comes from the inside. We are taught that there is more to the book than the cover. However we completely judge a person’s whole life and existence on exactly that when we are on social media; the appearance, the outside, the cover. We rip apart people online freely because we can hide behind a screen. We make fun of people in walmart and people on the beach wearing bikinis and those that don’t share our views. We are bullies.We fish for likes, we post for attention, and we long for a connection that in reality the internet cannot provide. I’m as guilty of it as anyone, mostly of the attention seeking (not the bullying since I wish I had the guts to put on a bikini at the beach). But I’m an adult and my brain has developed to the point that I know there is more to me than the mildly humorous, self-deprecating, mundane shit I post on facebook and that if I don’t get 100 likes and don’t go viral I’m still the badass mother fucker I’ve always been in spite of it.
Adolescents however, have frontal lobes the size of peas and they cannot think outside of the concrete moment they are in when they see that only 3 people liked something they posted. So when my child posts a picture of herself on twitter or instagram and doesn’t get a bizillion likes, she automatically thinks she’s defective. She’s ugly. She’s not worthy. And this is bullshit. So my advice to my friend is to have more conversations about the hilarity of social media, the stupidity of it, and that her kids’ lives are summed up by way more than the number of hearts on a selfie. Sure kids need to know internet safety and how to stay away from the creeps (all played by Rob Lowe) but they also need to know that the internet is dangerous in other ways such as how they perceive themselves based on the attention they get.
They and we need to know that sometimes we are are own worst enemies and that the time needs to come when we go all Julia Roberts and break away from the part of us that needs to be perfect on the outside and to know that we are more than enough on the inside.