Social Media, Teenagers, and the Meaning of Life

I’ve spent entirely too much time on Facebook and Twitter lately. I’m not on my own pages for more than a few minutes a day, but I follow my teenagers carefully. Supervision of social media is a parenting responsibility being trailblazed by my generation. There is no guidebook. No one has gone before us. And, honestly, the landscape changes almost daily. While I’d much rather be outside gardening than wading through the tweets of every teenager in town and many teenagers in far-flung places, it has afforded me an interesting perspective on life as a teenager in this new century.

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My favorite post ever on Facebook and teenagers is this one, by Danielle Bean, written on the occasion of her eldest joining Facebook. I love it all, but what astounded me when I first read it and what continues to amaze me is Danielle's ability to see the pitfalls before Kateri even ventured onto the Facebook teen world. That's one wise mama on the 'net.

We all need to wise mamas on the 'net. And the big hurdle we have to overcome is that it moves so quickly and it's all so new that anticipating where our children may get tripped up is not nearly as easy as Danielle makes it look. 

Clearly, I understand that learning to use social media during one's teenaged years is a necessary education. And, despite reports to the contrary, I'm definitely not social media hater. I went to Facebook reluctantly and I actually really like it there. I surprise myself with that statement. I went to Twitter (with Danielle's help), and honestly, I'm sure I don't quite get it. I can say the same thing, at the same time, on Twitter and Facebook and Facebook peeps chatter away, while Twitter folks (I will not call them Twits or Tweeps) ignore it. Go figure. I adore Instagram and the smallish circle of folks who brighten my days there.

Finally, my biggest assurance to people that I'm not anti-social media is the fact that a great deal of celebrating happened here when eldest son was named Director of Social Media for Sports at USAToday. In a moment, all the wrangling over Myspace and the steep learning curve we both climbed almost ten years ago seemed worth the time and effort. That said, the age of Facebook and Twitter entry in our house was raised substantially when a new 13-year-old said something ridiculously stupid and was erased from the face of internet interaction until he's old enough to drive. We're still learning here, folks.

My time watching what my kids say on social media is time well spent. I know that. It's also disconcerting. I want to tape Danielle's list on every computer in the house, somehow attach it to every smart phone. I can't tell you how many times I look at my husband (who knew me well in high school) and say, "I'm so glad I didn't leave an electronic record of that." And he will knowingly wink and concur.

My kids have seen me dissolve into a puddle of tears while staring at a computer screen. They've witnessed what social media can do to a reputation over the course of a single weekend. And I am aware that I set the example here, even as I make mistakes.

One thing I've learned and one thing that serves me really well is to walk away. I've learned to shut it all down for two or more days at a time and regain perspective that comes from looking into real faces and up at the wide open sky. I have learned how important it is to my mental health to be hands-free. I try to stay away from the internet on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. For me, I find that three days in a row proves to be the most beneficial. Over time, I've tweaked it a bit. I make an exception for posting to Instagram, mostly because I find myself with lots of capture-able moments on the weekend because I'm mostly away from my screen. I love my iPhone most of all for its camera:-) And, after I missed the opportunity to meet a far-off friend on the spur of the moment, I learned to check my email occasionally, too. Obviously, I pre-program blog posts. Mostly though, I back away--way away--from the screen for a three day weekend every week.

I wish I could teach my children how valuable that break is. Here's the thing: when you feel most sad or discouraged or downtrodden, that's when you most need to click the whole thing closed and unplug. You're not going to find consolation on the internet. Stop looking for it there. Find it where Augustine did.