Taking the Middle Road by Jennifer L. Bashant, Ph.D.

The teenage years are a wonderful time in life, but along with the good times often come many pressures and stresses. Let’s just talk about school…most of you probably have to wake up and get to school much earlier than your body prefers; you must sit through classes all day and listen attentively, take good notes and participate in discussions. And the work doesn’t stop when you leave the school building at the end of the day. Each evening there are sports practices and games, music lessons, clubs, volunteer work, homework and studying for tests. I remember these pressures from my own teenage years, but they are fresh in my mind again as I watch my three teenagers navigate their own winding paths.

The part of being a teen that I believe to be both magical and sometimes miserable is navigating the social world. In today’s society, you carry around your social world in your pocket everywhere you go. Social media is always there – far beyond the school walls and wider than your physical interactions with others. How much can you really tell about a person by looking at their social media posts? Is what you see authentic, or is it a fabricated world of unicorns and rainbows? It can be tempting to use social media as a yardstick by which to measure your own identity, popularity and success.

The teenage years are a time of exploration and identity-formation, but this developmental stage is complicated when so much of the social world takes place behind a facade. Social media is a breeding ground for bullying and exclusion because it is easier to make mean comments and hide behind the technology. There may also be anxiety brought on by the fear of missing something important if you are away from social media for too long. Many teens report compulsively checking their phones all day long, up until the last moments before falling asleep at night.

There is a way to interact with your peers on social media, yet not let it have such a negative impact on your life: take the middle road. By taking the middle road, I am suggesting that you avoid an all-or-nothing mentality with social media. If you shut down all of your platforms and refrain from using social media, you would alienate yourself from an integral part of teenage culture. On the other hand, if you are constantly checking your phone and are consumed by thoughts of staying on top of everyone’s latest, you become over-reliant on this impersonal, often deceiving, anxiety-provoking technology. People say “Everything in moderation,” and the same is true for social media.

Here are three tips that will help you keep social media in your life, but not let it take over your life:

1. Be self-aware.
Pay attention to how often you are checking your phone and posting on social media. Set some limits for yourself in terms of the amount of time you spend and the number and type of posts you make. Notice how you feel when you are away from your phone for a period of time. If you notice anxious feelings creeping in, this is an indicator that you may need to spend less time on social media.

2. Be creative, not conformative.
Be deliberate in terms of the things that you post on social media. These platforms can be a great way to express your creativity and authenticity. However, if you find that you are posting things to impress others or to conform to the ideals or norms of others, you may be setting yourself up for having a negative relationship with social media. Creating a false world that you must try to live up to or maintain puts a lot of pressure and stress on you, and prevents you from being true to yourself.

3. Be a critical consumer. 
It is important to remember that many people use social media to make their lives appear more interesting than they really are. Don’t assume that the smiling selfies and chronicled adventures represent the whole picture of someone’s life. Everyone has periods of boredom, self-doubt and even sadness, but you don’t usually see these dark times being shared on social media. When you compare your life to what you see on social media, you are comparing yourself to an illusion. Be a critical consumer by remembering that your peers are selecting highlights from their lives to tell a story, but it is only a partial story.

So, there are positive aspects of social media, especially the fact that it is a big part of teens’ social lives. Social media allows people to stay connected and informed about others’ lives, but be careful to keep social media in its place. Make an effort to connect with friends in person, to get outside and be active, and to take breaks from technology so you don’t develop an over-reliance on it. Most importantly, be deliberate with what you share about yourself on social media and remember that some things are best saved for your closest friends.

JenniferBashantAbout the Author: Jennifer L. BASHANT, Ph.D., LMSW, MA, Monthly Mentor and Parent Mentor, owner of Building Better Futures, LLC, is a Parent Empowerment Coach with the mission to strengthen families by improving challenging behavior, reducing stress and providing optimism and hope that things can and will get better. She is extremely passionate about her work because she has raised a child with challenging behavior, and she knows, first hand, what it feels like to feel isolated, blamed and worried about the future. As a licensed social worker with experience in a variety of clinical settings, Jennifer shares her knowledge and expertise with parents in a way that is compassionate, authentic and relevant. Read More…

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