Like other programs on teens, this one has a bit of an ominous and cautionary tone highlighting mostly the negative side of social media; the use of the word “secret” is in alignment with the production. For parents and adults who are ignorant of the deep world of social media, this is designed to be an exposé of sorts, bringing to light that which is hidden from their sight. They give some helpful hints and clues at the end, which I will list and comment on, but first, some key terms, ideas, and reflections on what this program, and others like it, tell us about ourselves and the perennial problem of generations.
Instant Barometer of Popularity. Social media acts in many ways as a measure of one’s place in their community, and the reason why teenagers check their social media so frequently is to know where they sit in the social hierarchy.
Lurking. A term used to describe the act of checking social media without posting or uploading anything. Observing, but not participating.
Double-Agent. A term used by one of the teens interviewed to describe the personas that are often acquired by teens when they are on social media.
TBR (to be rude/real). A qualifying acronym used to prompt an inappropriate comment. It may also be used as a “keeping it real,” platform.
Rocket fuel. This is the term used by Robert Faris, the expert sociologist, to describe social media as flammable and “highly combustible. In many ways what is happening online is no different than what has happened throughout the history of adolescence, but the digital platform of social media makes comments, attitudes, personas more potent and accelerates the degree to which they are forming their own image.
“They are addicted to the image of themselves reflected in the eyes of their peers.” Addiction is often thrown around as a concern, yet, it is important to understand what they’re truly addicted to. This phrase, used by Dr. Faris, describes the activity of “figuring out who they are.” Again, an activity that is greatly accelerated by social media.
“It’s not the screen/device. It’s the access to each other.” Again, a reminder that when we say “social media” or “phone,” as the “thing” that is the problem or our focus, we may be missing the point. It is all about peer connection.
Imaginary Audience. Dr. Marion Underwood mentioned this “egocentric state where an individual imagines and believes that multitudes of people are enthusiastically listening to or watching him or her. Though this state is often exhibited in young adolescence, people of any age may harbor a fantasy of an imaginary audience.” (Wikipedia: Imaginary Audience) In other words, they believe everyone is scrutinizing their every move. Social media is in many was the imaginary audience come to life.
Practically, what to do?
- Never underestimate the role of parents. Simply inquiring, checking in, asking questions, being interested, can make a significant emotional difference in the life of the child.
- “We’re all teenagers. Teenagers do dumb things.” I threw this into the practical segment (though it was originally stated by one of the teenage panelists) because we need to be reminded that, a) we were all “dumb” once, and b) most teenagers are far more aware of the implications of social media than adults give them credit for.
- Use social media with your kids. Be their “friend” and “follow” them. This will also help you understand how social media “works.”
- Have ongoing conversations. Help them to not sweat the small stuff. Help them navigate the digital street. Help them understand that there are other important and interesting things in life.
I have several conflicting feelings about this program and the developments of social media among our youth that I will try to elucidate here.
Nothing New Under The Sun. In many ways–identity formation, peer relationships, social “stacking,” image management, etc.–these are all “standard behaviors” of adolescent development. Who they are, how they relate to others, and what measures and standards to they use to understand themselves and this world is absolutely the same as it has always been.
Nothing Like This In The History of Humanity. Yet, the “rocket fuel” analogy is also true. Never before in human history have we had such a powerful medium. Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian social philosopher of the 1960s and 70s, posited a “hot” and “cool” label of mediums. The problem is that the internet and social media do not seem to fit easily into those categories, and are far more influential than we may realize.
Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit by taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left. – Marshall McLuhan
Everyone Adapts, and Adapts Well. Regardless of the positives or negatives of social media, I get the sense that the human species is quite resilient as a whole. While tragic particulars of bullying and suicide have been and will continue to be the end results for some people’s lives–and we should mourn deeply with those families–you can get a sense that the whole will adjust, adapt, and figure this out well through the natural acquisition of wisdom by way of observing the benefits and detriments of any technology.