I've doctored my social media sends to make me look better in the eyes of others. I've sent a filtered Snapchat, edited a profile picture to look a certain way, and posted an Instagram simply to give off the sense that I lead a certain kind of lifestyle. Growing up in the Silicon Valley, it was impossible to separate my two lives -- the living, breathing one around me and the social, filtered one I created online.
As social media reaches a wider and younger audience, the ways that young people (especially young girls) interact online and on their phones is becoming increasingly problematic.
According to Common Sense research, 45 percent of teens use social media “every day." Kids are practically living online with up to nine hours of media use a day. Girls are especially vulnerable to use of social media. A 2015 Common Sense census of teens found that girls use social media an average of 40 minutes more a day than boys and are almost twice as likely to post photos.
As both friendships and relationships move online, young girls are trying to fit the idea of being "sexy" into their posts, influenced by much of what they see in traditional media and what their peers are putting out. Like other girls, I have felt the pressure to look a certain way or to produce a certain type of content. Whether it's sending a Snapchat solely to get attention from someone who only cares about me for my looks, or spending the entirety of a fun activity with friends trying to take the perfect photo to later post on my Instagram, I have felt the pressures of social media affect my self-worth and my ability to connect authentically with others.
On Twitter I am silly and snarky, on Instagram I lead an aesthetic, adventurous, pink-filtered life, and on Facebook all I do is hang out with my loads of cool. Of course, these versions of me are not a true explanation of who I am. The amount of likes I get on a photo or the length of my Snapchat story are not metrics that have any real effect on who I am as a person. But the changing landscape of an increasingly digital world has made it so that I, my friends, and young girls around the world are being forced to split themselves between who we truly are and what social media demands that we be.
Once you see your friend post a certain type of photo, the immediate next step is, how can I keep up with that?
So how can teachers help their students stand up against the tidal wave of digital pressure? They need to empower young girls to be confident by helping them identify role models to follow and to look up to who are not primarily defined by their looks. The sooner the definition of beauty changes from a filtered, edited photo to a larger definition including kindness, intelligence, and authenticity, the sooner we can change the way young people interact over social media.
Students need to become critical consumers of media and learn to evaluate and consider the motives and intentions behind posts. Rather than assuming that all their friends are having more fun, simply because the positives of life are all they choose to post, students need to remember that social media is just a snapshot of a life -- a carefully cultivated, intentional piece of a much larger, more complex person.
Here are three commonsense tips you can implement and encourage in your classroom:
- Encourage kids to cultivate positive digital footprints.
- Help identify role models to follow who are not primarily defined by their looks.
- Empower kids to become critical consumers of media so they will be thoughtful creators themselves.