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Does Social Media Bring Out the Adolescent In Us?

By Stacey Ross

Well, yes! And is that so wrong?

Perhaps, and perhaps not.

I recently read a Huff Post article entitled, "Is Social Media Turning Us into Teenagers?" in which Lisa Heffernan, one of the authors behind Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest makes a strong point:

"Facebook was developed by teenagers, for teenagers and I wonder if it, and its cousins Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit and Google+, are not turning us all into adolescents. Adults conduct their social interactions differently than teens and young adults but the constructs of social media invite us to sound like our younger selves."

Are we influenced to turn more inward than outward?

I carefully absorbed Lisa's overwhelming contention that social media tends to evoke and demonstrate a preponderance of narcissistic traits and personalities, even within adults and like OMG, totally! it does bring out the teenager in many of us! All joking aside, I am right there with her when she voices that "the line between social interaction and bragging is constantly blurred," and I strongly believe that the online world, by its very nature, both invites and rewards a culture characterized by vanity and self-absorption.

Being that my source of income (see...I'm talking about myself, already!) is derived from being plugged in online, well, I am part of the game too, so hear me out. To achieve any kind of success online, one needs to and must stand out from the rest, and if one is not comfortable tooting one's own horn a bit and sharing one's own experiences from a first-person standpoint, well, unless you post award-winning sunset photos daily or your selfies speak for themselfies, you are in for a rude awakening in this online party that never sleeps!

Social media is, to a good extent, about showing the human side to ourselves –assigning one's name and a face (or personality) to whatever we are trying to accomplish online – and this paradigm is uncomfortable to be a part of for those who do not yearn to have any sort of spotlight. To others, it is an invitation to leverage the convenience of instant access to many eyeballs and have instant access for feedback and even mind-melds. And the motivations behind that can be anywhere from merely seeking attention and ego strokes, to keeping in touch with others, to marketing! A li'l somethin' for everyone!

How far is too far when tooting (one's own horn, that is!)?

To differentiate between flat out bragging (alibi, "shameless plug" shout-outs) from chronicling one's milestones and moments of pride, well, I am not sure that is such an simple task, especially "when in Rome."  Clearly, however, one can be skillful in weaving in relevant first-person accounts into one's posts and updates, without having everything appear too self-centered, but it takes insight and skill (and desire) to not constantly adopt a boastful approach.

Managing an online presence is truly a balancing act, particularly for those of us who are conversing our way through our own unique blends of professional and personal worlds.  In a culture in which we might feel pressure to get personal, we find ourselves in the same space as "digital natives" who have grown up online, whose own photos were online before they were even born. Their apps wake them up, tell them how long they have slept, ask friends to vote for which outfit they should wear for the day, then put them to sleep (praise the white noise apps!). It is a different world than the one I grew up in – one in which a new form of media thrives on how many people are willing to blast messages via photos and text and reveal as much of their personal and even private worlds as possible.

The goal for the money makers on these platforms is to breed approval-seeking peeps who thrive on feedback, yes, about themselves! Ultimately, when it comes down to it, this modern day show-and-tell formula is designed to make a small percentage get really rich, and seek free stars for their show. The more we share about ourselves, the more money they see in their futures! So, basically, the more teen-type drama, the better!

Online friendships - not the real deal?

Blogger Klaudia of GroovyPinkConsulting, shares in regards to the depths of intimacy that our online communication takes us:

"Good friendships at any age are full of good conversation focused on shared interests. Conversations on Facebook and Twitter are often little more than a string of short, clever quips and jaunty banter heavily sprinkled with exclamation points."

Again, in today's culture the relevance that engaging online with people has in the area of true personal development and intimacy is often pretty minimal. Teens and our "inner teens" need a reminder every now and then that online popularity can open the door to various opportunities, but will never replace the value of a true friend who comes over in real life with hot soup when you are sick. Fostering a dependence on instant feedback and growing quantities of friends (for popularity, numbers, analytics, points, likes, etc...) tends to keep things at a fairly shallow level (friends with digital benefits, lol), but this is only if one invests and assigns unrealistic expectations from having focused too much energy in the virtual world.

On the other hand, I personally feel more intimate with some of my online blogger friends, whom I check in with virtually pretty often but might see only a few times a year, in comparison to some of my fellow stage moms or soccer moms, whom I see in real life on a weekly basis (shhhh!). So, go figure!

Evaluating the teen within us

Relying heavily on social media feedback and engagement, one runs the risk of manifesting a faux social life (the "he only wants me for my Klout" syndrome, if you will) but thankfully, for most, Snapchat, Instagram, interactive apps and rate-your-date websites are not the main influences of a child transitioning into adulthood (well, hopefully not!). While kids constantly thrive on feedback, "likes," and ego strokes, they hopefully have parents who are wise enough to monitor and discuss what is too far and what is a healthful approach to their kids' online world and be one step ahead of them, or right there, online, with them.

Important for teens (and the "teen" within us), is to keep in check the pressure to keep up with the "cyber Joneses." For kids nowadays (oh, boy, I am sounding old!), building an online personae means that reputations are not only at stake but a piece of our souls become woven into the fabric of cyberspace, and what is shared there tends to get around.

Yet nostalgia breeds optimism!

Looking inward, however, is not always so bad! Actually, recent studies show that nostalgia evokes feelings of well-being and happiness. So, with that perspective in mind, I contend that a healthful approach to the interactive nature of social media offers us a forum where we can blend yesterday, today and tomorrow all in one place and put it out there, if you will, for our intended audience to interact as they see fit.

Researchers behind the November 2013 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggest that nostalgia actually makes people more optimistic about the future. While one might be "living in the past," those moments of reflection offer a boost of positivity. The studies show that the nostalgic subjects were effective in borrowing the positive feelings about themselves in their past and utilizing them in their current day-to-day events. It also makes them feel more connected to others and, in many cases, less isolated.

However, conversing in its truest sense is reflecting upon what is in the hearts and minds of others, not merely soliciting public feedback regarding your good fortune (or baggage, for that matter) for your best 500 "friends" to see.

Time for an online make-over?

In a nutshell, people driven by vanity are going to post accordingly; those who are activists and aspire to change the world will become known as such too. People who are strategically interweaving their personal worlds with their professional selves will humbly learn to fine-tune their content to their own personal comfort zones. There is a place for everyone! It is all in the approach and intention (and at times, restraint!).

I recommend taking the time to pause and consider that our online worlds can help us maintain ties however doing so fits our nature and our online mission, because whether we admit it or not, our mission will form a life of its own and our reputations are at stake!

But it is necessary to do so or we run the risk of adopting a "me, me, me" mindset that can carry over offline too. If the amazing messages out there online are likable and interesting enough, only if they fit into our realm, our interests, our agenda, our marketing campaign, our status... our personal and professional relationships also run the risk of becoming tainted with the flavor of "What can you do for me?" and "How can you help me?" and "What do you think about me?" If so, we might be counterproductive and come off as narcissistic (OK, I said it!).  Social media invites kids and adults, alike, to go that direction; it just does!! There are ways to use platforms to not go that route, but that's another post....

Meanwhile, I leave you with a phrase that I believe Lilly Tomlin said: "Enough talking about me; what do you think about me?"

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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