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Is anyone else crazy thankful that social media didn’t exist when you were young? I embarrassed myself perfectly well the old-fashioned way, thank you very much. Locally.
The advent of social media has taken normal teenage angst, the awkwardness of youth, and the misinformed (but oh-so-passionate) pleas of young adulthood and turned them into international news.
And in an amazing turn of manipulation, these young people have been convinced that this is a good thing! Remarkable.
I’d like to speak some wisdom I’ve gained over the years (I did just turn 44) and hope that it may spare even one person the humiliation I’ve witnessed occurring on social media. Young people, listen up!
The Diary Lesson
Several years ago, I came across a diary I’d kept in middle school. It made me cringe to read things I’d written that I felt so sincerely at the time. I don’t even remember who I wrote this about: He looked at me today. I will love him forever. (Keep in mind that when I wrote this I still had five Cabbage Patch dolls that I sang to sleep every night to Stuck on You on my Lionel Ritchie cassette.) Real mature.
Fast forward to college. I drank the Kool-Aid big time. I fit this quote (often mis-attributed to Winston Churchill) to a tee, aside from the ages being off… ‘If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.’ I have had to back pedal on many a heartfelt political opinion expressed at family holidays from those early days. I hadn’t quite learned the art of disagreeing yet.
Lesson: What you feel passionately about right now, you may change your opinion on as you gain age and wisdom. Try to say what you think with a grain of humility. You may have to eat those words someday.
The Hand Sweatshirt
Ahhhhh, the hand sweatshirt. Still have it in a box in the basement. White shirt, artistically covered with multi-colored handprints. The night I got the long, thigh length sweatshirt, I lay awake thinking of all the ways I could wear it. It would go with jeans, leggings, sweat pants, it’s long enough to be a dress (it wasn’t), I could belt it… and on and on.
I loved it so much, I wore it on a rotating schedule for most of 7th grade. Monday, Wednesday, Friday one week. Tuesday, Thursday the next. (I washed it about every other night to keep it fresh.)
Yes, my two older sisters mocked me. Yes, my parents told me I looked like an idiot. No, I didn’t listen.
Years later, in high school, I was talking to some girls a grade ahead of me. The hand sweatshirt somehow came up and one girl said, “That was you?! We used to make fun of you!” Another said, “We thought you were special needs.”
Lesson: When people who love you tell you that you’re making a fool of yourself…trust them. There are likely loads more who are thinking it and just not telling you.
Second grade. Valentines Day. Shoe box valentine card ‘mailboxes’ were stationed on top of every student’s desk. I made my way around, delivering the small, multi-pack cards to my classmates. Except for one. My crush.
No way some generic card would do to get his attention. Nope. I bought a genuine Hallmark card. It had a picture of a small animal, peeking out of a hole in the ground and on the inside it said, “Valentine, I really gopher you.”
Didn’t exactly get the reaction I’d hoped for.
In short, he opened and threw away the card as quickly as he could (probably embarrassed by it) and ignored me completely.
Lesson: Maybe don’t be quite so open about your feelings, especially publicly. People don’t know how to respond to that. Take a step back and slow it down.
One final piece of advice I’d like to offer, but don’t have a story for, since social media was not around way back in the ice age of my youth. Here it is: Social media is not your personal counseling service.
I have read a number of articles which refer to studies that indicate that using social media can cause you to feel worse about yourself, make you generally more unhappy, and even cause or exacerbate depression. When you are constantly comparing your worst self to others’ best selves, and judging your worth based on how many ‘likes’ or responses you get — it’s no wonder!
Find a real person to talk to. Or at the very least, reach out via private messaging to a trusted advisor. And re: lesson #2 above…listen to their advice!
Really there’s one thing you could do that would solve all of the possible humiliations above.
Keep a private journal.
It is a lie that everything you think must be made public. Believing that lie is what gets you into those situations. Go ahead and record your every thought, every lovesick plea, every passionate belief.
Then do what the rest of us did: pack it away and laugh about it 20 years later.
What’s your best advice for teens and social media?