As we spend more time on-line and learn to measure our worth by “Likes” and “Followers,” our young people (and the not-so-young rest of us) are developing a skewed view of life.
Memes are some of the wittiest, most hilarious, and most relatable things on the Internet, and never has one rung truer to me than this one: “May your life someday be as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook.” Touche, Internet.
On the screen, existence is filtered. Parties are joyous, friendships are decades long, scenery is breathtaking, clothes are fashionable, food is gourmet, travel is exotic. Life sure is fabulous.
No one posts a photo when they’re not looking their best. I know I certainly don’t. In fact, I’ll tell you the shameful truth: if I took a picture of myself on a regular work day and compared it to my profile picture, a stranger probably wouldn’t even know it was the same person. That’s because my profile picture was taken on a night when I was in full makeup and hair done, in good lighting. That’s not how I normally look, it’s just how I want people to picture me.
My posts are really no different. I will gladly post pictures of my kids’ accomplishments and our summer vacation, but you don’t see me creating an album of the clutter in their filthy bedrooms, nor do I tell all the details of a stressful day at work or a huge car repair bill. It’s not that I don’t deal with the messy things in life like everyone else does, I just don’t normally highlight those things. Few people do.
I only admit this because I know I’m not alone. Almost every person I know adds filters to their lives, if not their pictures. Unless it’s a case of humble-bragging, pity-partying, or compliment-fishing, most of life’s messiness has been shuffled out of plain sight. The daily struggles all of us face, since they don’t translate well on Facebook or Instagram, stay behind the scenes while anyone plugged in sees mostly an orchestrated charade.
Me? You? We know the difference. Anyone I went to high school with could take a look at my picture on Facebook and might say, “Wow, that’s a great picture of Gina, she must have been at a Christmas party or something,” because they’re used to seeing me in the grocery store with my hair in a ponytail. They’re not under any illusions that I’m more put together on a daily basis than anyone else. And while I can be happy for someone whose fireplace looks spectacular decorated for Christmas, I’m not left feeling inferior about my home, because I’m sure they have just as many dust bunnies on the floor as I do. As adults we know these things.
Young people don’t have the benefit of years of life experience to guide them in their on-line endeavours. They see models in clothing ads and wonder if every other girl looks like that except for them. They see pictures of their friend’s new Playstation and wonder why all the other families seem to have more money than theirs. Our kids and their friends compare their very real lives to the make-believe of a filtered on-line world and they find theirs falling short. Without the wisdom to help ground them, the stress seems insurmountable, I’m sure.
Is it any wonder that teachers all across North America are reporting more anxious students than ever before, at all age levels. Young adults are mentally and emotionally overwhelmed at rates exponentially higher than in years past. Anxiety is now the most common mental-health disorder in the U.S. and Canada, affecting nearly one-third of adolescents and adults. It’s also the most common reason students seek counselling in college.
For a long time I subscribed to the widely-held belief that today’s teens were too coddled and too fragile, lacking the resilience of my generation. I blamed, in large part, political correctness and overprotective parents. Now I realize this was an oversimplification. These kids are coming of age at a time when technology is transforming everything at a dizzying pace, and when, thanks to ever-present screens, they have a front row seat to the chaos of the world, and the unrealistic expectations against which they will measure themselves.
It’s incredibly important for us to remind them that most of it is two-dimensional landscaping, teach them how to appreciate reality, and give them the wisdom they need to navigate through all the filters around them.