Just ask your grandparents, life between the ages of 13 and 20 has never been easy. Teenagers are popularly characterized by their Andes-like peaks in hormone levels, their proclivity to always be tired regardless of how much sleep they get, and perhaps most notably their constant angst regarding the tricky balancing act between school and social life. Indeed, the “work” versus “play” mentalities and finding a healthy balance between the two has never been an easy feat. But with today’s modern social media technologies, it is more difficult than ever to navigate such a complex, multi-dimensional challenge.
There’s an incredible pressure on social media users to publish content that portrays the user in the best light possible– Sometimes it even feels like that’s exactly what these tools were designed to do. The interconnected nature of these platforms, with the number of followers and ‘likes’ sometimes seeming like points in a game of popularity, is a large contributing factor to this pressure. The result of such a construct is extreme Selective Exposure: Millions upon millions of user profiles all designed to represent the user’s life in the coolest, or most interesting, or most professional, or *enter your choice of superlative adjective here* way possible.
Now think back to when you were a young dumb teenager like me. Or, if you are currently a young dumb teenager, just sit tight and try to read this whole article without stopping to check Yik Yak. The things you likely thought were ‘cool’ or ‘interesting’ probably had more to do with going out with friends than it did with studying, yes? Well, that much hasn’t changed.
So now take a population of anxious, hormone-ridden balls of sexual tension and give them access to a tool that will let them paint a precise picture of who they are to their peers. This construct leads to severely unbalanced coverage of “work” and “play” influences, with significant overexposure to the ‘cooler’ “play” factor. From here, it is not difficult to understand how such skewed representations of daily life commonly lead to misperceptions about the ratio that “work” and “play” may play in a person’s life. Indeed, it is easy to wrongfully conclude from a person’s social media posts that they always party, they are always with their friends, and somehow they magically always look good. Emphasis on wrongfully.
It is easy to wrongfully conclude from a person’s social media posts that they always party, they are always with their friends, and somehow they magically always look good.
So me, for example.
I’m a Barrington High School graduate and a current Stanford undergrad. I am a creator, a thinker, a problem solver and a life-liver. I am a traveller, a trier, a succeeder and a failer. I’m a dumb teenager. I’m a bright mind. I’m mature and responsible. I’m an athlete. I’m a writer. I’m an artist. I’m a friend. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m a role model.
I am all these things and nothing upsets me more than the knowledge that some people think, judging from the content I choose to share on social media, that all I do is party. I find it nothing short of insulting. (Which, by the way, should be enough prove right there that that’s not how I roll. There are plenty of kids out there who wouldn’t mind if that’s how all their friends thought of them.)
“Well Catherine, if you don’t want people to think all you do is hang out with friends and do dumb stuff all day long, don’t you think you should Snapchat and Instagram things other than you just lounging around doing dumb stuff with your friends?”
I don’t feel the need to post a ton of photos of me studying with the sole purpose of balancing out “work” and “play” content because I am confident that those who truly know me know what my values and priorities are in life. I did not get into this school on accident. I know the value of both the “work” and “play” factors, and I take pride in my ability to work my booty off for a week straight then relax and have a beer at the end of my Friday. That is not a crime. (Oh wait…)
I did not get into this school on accident.
Just for the hell of it… and to squash all the nonbelievers… and to take advantage of the opportunity to be wonderfully condescending, here is some rare PHOTO EVIDENCE that I do IN FACT do stuff OTHER THAN PARTYING!!! (Attention: Riveting stuff ahead.)
So, to all the administrative staff members of my alma mater high school, whoever is high up enough at Stanford with the power to royally screw me over, potential future employers, fellow dumb teenagers, fellow high achievers, the White House staff member reading this because he/she was assigned to figure out if Stanford would be a good fit for Malia in two years, friends, and whoever else is reading this right now: I politely invite you to bear in mind that what appears to be the entire truth at first is often just a small piece of the whole picture.
(That whole picture, by the way, is me. It’s not my family, not my high school and not the university. But maybe that’s a conversation for another time…)