How The Filtered World Of Social Media Is Changing Our Kids

by Patty Walsh
A person holding a phone and taking a picture of a sunset and palm trees with a filter on
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and Designecologist/Pixabay/Pexel

Last week, as my daughter and I were driving, I noticed an odd series of gestures happening in the front seat next to me. A quick glance to the side and I realized that it was my daughter taking picture after picture of herself with different facial expressions each time. When I asked her what the heck she was doing, she replied, “I’m doing my streaks.”

After realizing (thankfully) that she was not referring to the act of running buck naked through a crowd, I quickly regrouped to inquire what that meant in “teenspeak.” I should have known from the get-go that it was one of those social media time-sucks that seemingly drives teens and parents to the brink of insanity on a daily basis.

After a quick tutorial from her about Snapchat stories, I was in the know. If I have this right, Snapchat streaks require kids to keep up a daily routine of sending out live shots of things they are doing throughout the day to pretty much anyone they have ever met or will possibly ever meet or will never met. If perchance they happen to be sick, Wi-fi fails or they lose use of their opposable thumbs, then the streak ends and apparently the world with it.

I couldn’t quite shake the concept that across the globe, millions of kids like my daughter were doing the exact same thing. The idea that they were under the gun to send quick snap shots of themselves with forced smiling faces really bothered me. I decided that this was worthy of a discussion over a glass of wine with friends on a recent girl’s night. I was ready for my friends to rally behind me and share in my dismay of what our kids are doing on social media.

I was surprised, however, to find out that both of my friends used Snapchat themselves. One friend even told me that she actually kept up her daughter’s streaks for her when she was at camp and didn’t have phone access. I was floored. I mean props to my friend for taking that on, but the irony of sending her daughter to camp to unplug for a week only to keep said daughter “virtually” plugged in the whole time astounded me.

The heart of the issue for me is the constant need to present a happy facade. This is not reality, obviously. I worry that the lines between what is presented and what happens when the phone is off will become muddled for kids. The need to perpetuate a false persona on a regular basis seems a dangerous road to travel for anyone, much less an impressionable teen.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my smartphone and it is never far from my grubby little hands. I like looking at 100 versions of chocolate chip cookie recipes on Pinterest. I LOL frequently at the clever memes on Instagram. I even don’t mind the constant string of humble brags on Facebook. I’ve been guilty of that myself. I understand that that has become the new “norm.”

I am not okay, however, with the incessant stream of social media that portrays kids as some Stepford version of themselves. Where does that end? Will they never reach out when they need help because they don’t want anyone to see that they are not really happy 24/7?

Omkar Patyane/Pexels

It comes down to this for me — I want my kids to realize that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Happiness is great and boy do I hope that my children are living that dream as much as possible. But I also think it’s equally important to be able to deal with the problems and issues that life will throw their way, because that is inevitable and unavoidable.

A more recent car ride with my daughter prompted a conversation around this very subject. I think it’s unrealistic to expect her social media habits to drastically change. We did, however, have a very candid talk about knowing that it’s all right to raise that little white flag and show her true self. We discussed the importance of talking to her friends about her problems and to listen to theirs.

My hope is that my daughter realizes that, despite what she sees and sends on Snapchat every day, it is not real life. Life is not all rainbows and sunshine and Kylie filters. Real life is taking the good with the bad and learning to deal with everything in between. I know that her smiley faced “streaks” will continue, but I will also be there to nudge her back to reality too.