So to be clear, I am on the edge of identifying as a millennial, according to Google. I was born in 1995, so I just made the cut. Isn’t it funny how we classify parts of our identity based on this category of defining people by their generation? It seems more apparent now than ever with the popular trending terms of Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z’s. It also blows my mind that my current students are part of Gen Alpha. How weird is that!
Describe your relationship with social media. How has social media affected your personal or professional life in positive and negative ways?
Social media entered my life around the age of 11. It all started with MSN Messenger. Every year at summer camp, we would exchange emails and add each other on MSN and chat online with people we never saw again in person. Then quickly after came the age of creating Facebook profiles, and it exploded from there. By the time I reached high school, I had my first flip phone (Oh, how I miss that satisfying feeling) and hundreds of friends on Facebook. It was very typical to communicate with people over instant messaging and texting versus an actual phone conversation. The nostalgia brings me back.
I find myself caught in the middle of appreciating the rich childhood that I had, spending lots of time outdoors with friends and family, and staying up to date with the latest trends to connect with my students and their lives. (I also genuinely spend an embarrassing amount of time on TikTok out of pure enjoyment).
I was growing up during a time as social media platforms were being developed. There were little to no parameters surrounding privacy, online safety, cyberbullying, or digital citizenship. As a whole, we were learning on the go, and we definitely made mistakes along the way.
My experience with social media is generally very positive. I was not very often a victim of cyberbullying, and I had some parental guidance along the way to understand that I was responsible for my safety while online and using devices. However, I have witnessed the very dark side of social media and how it can be such a powerful influence on our social lives during such fragile times of a teenager’s life.
Looking back now as an adult, social media, in combination with other things such as the sports I was invested in and being a female, took a massive toll on my body image and self-esteem. As a national-level gymnast and cheerleader, I was in constant comparison of my body and skills. Social media is the ultimate comparison of our lives. We highlight all of the good and tuck away everything else behind closed doors. Recently, however, social media has shifted where we are starting to share more of our real-life behind the scenes, the good and the bad, thanks to a mental health and body positivity movement.
I am currently doing a lot of unlearning regarding my own identity, self-worth, and confidence. Playing the comparison game had me editing and photoshopping photos to feel good enough to post them for the world to see, even if it wasn’t an accurate representation of who I was. Today, I have consciously chosen to like and follow people and accounts that make me feel represented and not ashamed about the stage of life that I currently am in. Instagram and Facebook often left me feeling defeated and that I always had something I needed to do better. My entire newsfeed has shifted now that I have removed the negativity on my screen that I saw every day and replaced it with content that makes me feel accepted and human.
Social media has a place in this world. It is not going away any time soon. The way we navigate it is a personal journey, and it is easy to slip into the comments threads that include all of the trolls of the internet. We have to remind ourselves constantly that what we see online is just one fraction of what is going on in the moment in real-time. Things are not always what they see. Teaching this to the next generation has never been more critical than now.