Teenage insecurities

I am dealing with my own struggles these days, and I find some are exacerbated by social networking. Note how I say that these issues are “exacerbated” not “caused” by social networking. I believe there is a big difference.

A November 2011 article in the Huffington Post brings it home for me. Titled Life is Not a Popularity Contest, it hones in on our desire to have more friends, see and be seen, but at the expense of true connection. Dr. Brene Brown distinguishes this as belonging (what we should aspire towards) vs. fitting in (what we end up doing when we simply collect people into our databases instead of truly getting to know them). Actually, Dr. Brown goes beyond this. She states that it is important to be true to yourself instead of always trying to please others, or at least make them happy. But our fear of being disliked, forgotten, or simply ignored pulls us into this pattern of simply being seen as someone who is nice to be around. Which ultimately harms are own senses of self and authenticity.

Social networking allows us to share and check in with so many people, but not necessarily connect with them. Connecting takes time, vulnerability, and mutuality. “Hoarding” friends, as the HuffPo article discusses, is no way to do that. All it does is fill a void with nothing cleverly disguised as substance. Much in the same way that junk food may fill, but never nourish.

But I don’t think this issue is unique. Back when I was a youth, before social networking, I still felt the need to be a part of something. THE party, the inside joke, the more desirable crowd. This yearning to “fit in” did not surface with Facebook (or even MySpace or Friendster); it’s always been there. Brown argues in her book The Gifts of Imperfection that our need for connection is innate. But social networking makes fitting in easier and easier, which further distances ourselves from real connection.

I remember getting to know people in the true sense of connection when I was in college. The all-night talks in a dorm hallway. Going up to the foothills for the day to just be with others. Those days are long gone for me, but it’s best if I remember them so I do not fall into the trap of collecting rather than connecting. Especially since connection is what I need most right now. So, bring on the walks, the Happy Hours (adults only, please), and silly times. And while I still make “like” your post, I will also try a little harder to realize that doing so does not mean I actually reached out to you that day.

 

Words of Wisdom (since I don’t seem to have any)

This article in the New York Timesby Dr. Perri Klass offers a great perspective on youth online that I fail to have these days. Gems from this article, “Seeing Social Media More as a Portal Than as Pitfall”:

  1. Let’s stop talking in a “danger paradigm” about the internet. I like how Klass makes an off-hand remark about equating being online with driving. I could really go with this comparison: Sure, both can be really dangerous. Or just mundane. Yet necessary. So, you figure out how to drive responsibly, carefully, and intelligently. But there are tons of others on the highway (be it made of pavement or the “super information” kind), and not all are as savvy or as well-intentioned as you. Some are even really nice (especially here in over-polite Oregon). But, really, most are inconsequential.
  2. The internet can actually be used to reach out and help others. The article mentions how Residential Advisors can monitor first year students as they navigate college and being away from home, perhaps for the first time. In my own work, I know how wonderful websites such as ReachOut, Youth MOVE, and MindYourMind can support young people through challenging times. They offer personal stories, resources, and a chance for people to realize they are not alone, no matter what they are experiencing.
  3. Pay attention to youth voice! They are the ones who can tell us what’s really going on, and what we should worry about.

Now, can anyone tell me how to shake this writer’s block?