To See, or To Be Seen – Is that the question?

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“I’m not on social media or Facebook or anything,” a friend told me yesterday when we bumped into each other at the grocery store. Both of us racing in for a quick-grab (that instantly became not-so-quick) stopped & paused to catch up.

“So,” she continued, “it’s hard to relate to Sam (name-changed teen) as she processes and struggles with feeling left out or less-than.”

“Oh,” I sighed. “I get it.”

She told me how Sam had come home from camp – a week away from technology – and almost instantly started to struggle under the weight of her friends’ photo feeds. One pic-set in particular showed her friends’ selfie action at the pool. The hardest part for Sam, one of the pool-pic friends had only hours before declined getting together – something about being forced to stay home and summer read. – Not –

“It’s not like us when we were kids,” she continued. “Sure everyone has been left out. I certainly was – not always – but definitely not included on occasion. But, when we were in Jr. High, being better-offered and such wasn’t in your face.”

“My heart went out to Sam,” my friend told me. “She couldn’t stop herself from feeling left out, unwanted and alone – like she didn’t belong.”

“It’s brutal,” I told her.

She sighed and shook her head, “I can honestly say – I don’t mind being a social media illiterate. But I’m thinking I need to jump in so I can help my daughter swim.”

My heart went out to my friend.

I get it. I think we all do. Aren’t we all just a flesh-wound away from Jr. High insecurities? And social media, though terrific in many respects, can be ruthless. Usually taking captive our thoughts in not very positive ways.

Earlier this year, Pew Research released a report on social media use. Newsflash: the vast majority of internet users actively participate in at least one social media outlet:

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And we use it often. According to a couple more recent Pew reports, more than 92% of teens (go) online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly, 56% several times a day  It’s not just teens. Parents on Facebook are especially avid users: 75% log on daily, including 51% who do so several times a day.

Since social media relies relationship, in the form of friends and followers (sidenote tidbit: adult social media users have an average of 150 friends, younger users average over 650 friends) it can’t help but be personal. Which is good … but can bring with it bad.

Since I might have spent the last year contemplating this subject, here’s a short excerpt from I’m Happy For You:

Social media fuels our existing tendencies to compare. We script a pic to let friends know we’re engaged, married, pregnant. We cover ourselves in memorabilia to let everyone know our kid has been accepted into a university—if it’s a “good” one. We certainly wouldn’t want to share the mediocre. (But wouldn’t that be refreshing if we did?) We tweet about the new job. Instagram photos of our pets. Post stories about our beautiful, intelligent, and talented grandbabies. And on it goes.

Through an incessant parade of pictures and announcements, we all get to compare our lives in real time. According to Shaun Dreisbach of Glamour magazine, “Approval seeking is intensified by the sheer amount of online exposure: 1.8 billion photos are uploaded and shared every day on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, and WhatsApp alone.” Further, women spend an average of four-and-a-half hours a day online, two of which are devoted solely to social media.

1.8 billion photos! Wow. I guess this is where reports of depression that accompany social media come into play.

It’s hard to stay grounded in reality while interacting on social media. In our heads we know the pics are a Glimpse, a highlight reel of sorts. We know that on the other side of a captured and shared moment is regular just like us; but it’s hard to keep those thoughts in check.

Maybe that’s where relationship, again (see last week’s post Taming Technology,) offers a win/win white flag. The way we see friends and followers can make a huge difference in contentment. Our view/perspective defines relationship on social media platfroms. If we remember that people – with regular surrounding each and every pic/post/share – are involved, we can lock away those reflex reactions to negatively assess ourselves. We can walk alongside rather than against.

I’ve noticed that no matter what parental controls we put on their phones, no matter how hard we try to manage their social media use, we can’t stay ahead of the curve. It changes too fast. But we can teach them how to travel the road. When she sees those pics – remember that real people are involved. That each person in the photo feels the same way she does: worried about being included, wondering about next time, aware of likes/shares, dying to belong, and … fill in the blank.

In don’t know the answer, but I share with my friend a life-line that has really helped my kids, “For mine, I encourage them, if even for a split second of a moment, to remember that pic-friends are regular people – just like them, same cares, same worries, same need for purpose & acceptance. Then, let the breathing begin: considering others gets our eyes off ourselves acts like oxygen. It helps us to see, rather than be driven by the need to be seen.”

Does it work?

I hope so. Here’s what I saw on the back of Snope’s phone yesterday – a reminder, maybe a life-line of sorts.

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Her reminder to herself sure inspired me – and apparently her sister saw it and asked for a copy for her phone:

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Life found in actually seeing the people around you. Life found in walking alongside rather than against. Life found in traveling together. Because we are together, not alone. Moms at the grocery store. Sisters holding phones. Friends that are more than a number on a social media platform.

Thanks for walking it with me.

-Kay

Let's Discuss:

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