Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The "liking" epidemic: Popularity in the 21st century

Below is a link to a PBS Frontline show that I found both illuminating and disturbing. There is a new kind of "popularity" in town, and you don't have to have the coolest clothes, be the cutest, or hang with the right people. You can become popular in the comfort and privacy of your own home, or in the back seat of your parents car, at the dinner table, doing your homework, anywhere, as long as you have your trusty smartphone, ipad, or laptop.

The new popularity can happen in a click. Put up a photo, click you're liked. Write something silly, click, you're liked. Say something sexy or provocative, click you're liked. Make a youtube video in your room and talk about yourself or other people, click, you're liked. Get enough likes and you are not only popular but the newest sensation.

Is your teen caught up in the endless cycle of "liking and being liked." Maybe you are caught up in it too. You just posted a video of your family taking on the the latest craze "the ice bucket challenge. Yes, you did it for charity, but seriously wouldn't you have been disappointed if no one "liked" or commented on your adorable family. Or, your dog just did the cutest thing, and you posted it on instagram or twitter and facebook, and waited patiently for the likes and comments to come pouring in. Face it, it feels really good. I get it, I love it too! It's addictive, and it makes us feel acknowledged and yes "liked."

As adults, we have perspective. We get it's all a little self-serving, but it brings joy and fun into our lives, and who doesn't need a little of that from time to time. But hopefully, we can set limits on ourselves and the time we give to this public pursuit of "likeness." We have had years to develop competence and confidence in who we are and what we have accomplished in life, and that is the real stuff that feeds our self-esteem. Teens, on the other hand are in a time in their life when they may not be feeling confident or competent in much of anything. And getting 50 likes for saying something or posting something a little outrageous can provide them with a much needed boost in their confidence, even if it is given for no real accomplishment. And that is the real issue. Confidence and self-esteem that lasts is built on a foundation of real accomplishments. Confidence and self-esteem that is built on accumulation of "likes" and "followers" and "friends" has no real lasting effect, and can actually hinder the development of an identity.

This is why I feel so passionate about parents needing to be really on top of how much time their teens give in the pursuit of "likeness" Life is about balance. Take a good long honest look at your kids. How much time do they spend in the endless cycle of posting and re posting and commenting, and "liking. " Like some of the kids in the Frontline story, sometimes this pursuit of popularity takes the place of actually living a life full of real living. If your teen's life seems out of balance, they will need help from you to create some. They will not "like" it. So be it, you can get your "likes" somewhere else for now. Watch this video with your kids, and talk to them about it. It is a discussion worth having! If you "like" this post, and want more parents to understand this phenomenon so that your teen can't say to you, "nobody else's parent is worried about this" than please share this post with  five friends who have teens!

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