, ,

Kathleen, Could you answer the list of questions attached to this email

about my article for my journalism class, like an interview? Thnx!!! 

I recently received this email from a young friend followed by these questions:

  • What is the reason teens post photos of their lives?
  • Is there such a thing as living through photos and why do people do it?
  • Why has it become such a huge part of our culture?
  • What are the positive and negative impacts from posting online in teens’ lives?

First of all, I’d like to congratulate her and her teacher for taking on such a challenging and meaningful issue. Just addressing the questions makes me more hopeful for kids!!! Secondly, the questions made me think about how I view this “new” trend and what I’d like kids to hear about it. I encourage you to take these questions to heart also. Meanwhile, here is a portion of my reply to her.

It’s always been part of being a teen to figure out who you are, what kind of folks like you, where you “fit” into the world. It is not an easy process and it often results in feeling crummy about yourself and maybe even about others too. Teens really like to connect with each other and enjoy seeing what others are up to. But I also think there is an underlying longing to send a message to others, something like: “I have a life; people like me; I have friends; I’m a fun person to be with; you might like to be with me.” Maybe even another message like, “I’m a cool, hip, happening kind of person! You’ll miss out on fun if you miss out on me!” A commercial to sell your self?

Even though most kids post with positive intentions, it’s worth noting that almost certainly, every time one person posts pictures of their good time, someone else will feel left out, have their feelings hurt.

My young friend asked if there is such a thing as living through photos. I believe that she’s onto something so I’d answer a huge YES! Taking one step back, building genuine friendship takes face-to-face time, shared activities, real conversation in good times and in bad. It takes seeing one another when you’re pretty and smell good AND without your makeup and when you feel lousy. It takes fighting and having hurt feelings AND returning for the painful conversation where feelings get aired, apologies are made and you make up, forgive and go on as friends. It’s hard work, even painful work which takes time and is a hassle.

Doing friendship virtually is almost impossible because about 85% of human communication is non-verbal, in other words, it is NOT words! Online, texting, emailing or even writing letters, we miss about 85% of what the other person meant to say. We have only a 15% chance of getting their message right! We can’t hear their tone of voice; we can’t see their expression; we can’t see the tears gathering in their eyes. . . or the smile playing on their lips. So, although online “connecting” may feel easier and safer, in fact, it makes you more likely to miss the target of true connection and friendship!

One of my greatest concerns is that when kids get together they seem to pay more attention to taking a picture of it than they do to actually doing it (whatever “it” may be). That results in living sort of a virtual life: “I’m not really having fun; I’m really interested in getting pictures which LOOk LIKE I’m having fun to someone who’ll feel they weren’t cool enough to be with me!” “Hiding” in a virtual exchange may feel safer, less risky but I think it slows down the real process of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Even worse, I think many folks will never learn how to let others know who they really are and will “hide” behind virtual masks of what they think others expect of them, feeling unacceptable and unlovable.

What to do? Imagine, if you will, an outing among teen friends where NO ONE could take a picture. . . at a party, going shopping, spending the night with friends. How would that change things? Is that something a group of friends might like to experiment with? Would it encourage kids to ask, “Why is taking photos so important to us? Do we really like to goof around together or are we just trying to beef up our photo section?”

I applaud this young woman for thinking beyond the trend. I double-dog dare you to take this blog and engage a conversation asking your teen these difficult questions. And, please, oh please, let me hear your results!

Let’s keep our kids thinking!