Teenagers are my favorite people in the world. They are clever, they are compassionate, and they are completely mischaracterized by television and movies.
Teenagers today have two separate lives: one in reality and one that is digital.
For the last 10 years, I’ve had great interactions with “Reality Teen!” I ask questions like, “How was your weekend?” and “What don’t you understand about Continental Drift?” And my amazing students look me in the eye, answer my questions, occasionally smile, and life moves on.
But I’ve seen a change in my real-life teenage students as more and more of them spend time as “Digital Teen.”
Social media has consumed so many of them. They care more about a SnapChat silly face contest with someone in another part of the school building than they care about making face-to-face connections with the people sitting literally right next to them.
Every once in a while we have 5-10 spare minutes after a lesson. I often use this time to talk one-on-one with the students, or talk with them as a whole. Last week I started thinking a lot about how my Digital Teens were taking over my classroom and my school, and I saw my Reality Teens disappearing before my eyes. It got me wondering what was happening behind those screens? What is it that parents and teachers don’t know about social media? Maybe there is a reason that the digital world is so much more fun? So I asked my students to finish this sentence,
“What my parents/teachers don’t know about social media is…”
I can never thank my students enough for being so brave with their answers. I knew most of the things the kids shared with me…staying up late without parent permission, asking for nudes, sharing nudes, setting up drug deals, and bullying.
For some reason I didn’t understand how wide-spread the problems were.
Almost EVERYONE who responded, shared that they are involved in these things, or that they watch these things. All day. Every day. It’s in their pockets, on the smartphones, 24/7. I don’t care what they say…no grown-up EVER had that kind of social peer pressure.
Yes, those of us who grew up in the 1900s faced similar things, but we could literally walk away from them. Teenagers today simply can’t.
A boy who rides your bus can ask you for a nude, and you can say no. You can even block him on social media. But a few hours later you still have to ride the same bus home. And there’s no way a parent or teacher can ever understand what that feels like.
But we want to try.
Just because we were never “Digital Teens” doesn’t mean that today’s teenagers are alone. We are still here. Parents, teachers, counselors, principals, and therapists are here for you in the real world.
We are ready to talk with teenagers about how we can help. We might not have the answers yet, but I firmly believe the first step is for us to start talking with each other.
Teenagers out there: open up about your digital lives with the people around you. Parents and Teachers: listen carefully, without judgment. Because YOU didn’t experience this digital peer pressure it will be hard to understand, but our teenagers desperately need us. And they are ready to talk! I hope that tonight, teenagers and their parents will sit down, open up, and talk about how bullying, nudes, and drugs do not have to be a normal part of digital life.
Let’s Talk: Comment & join the newsletter below, SHARE, and join the conversation in the FB Group:
Social media safety for our kids parenting Facebook Group: Let’s Talk Teens