Old guys typically speak longingly about the older days, and when they do, they are often dismissed by people who believe that their recollections are overly romantic. In many ways, though, these people are right. The world has changed significantly. Today’s teens and pre-teens have to deal with different challenges than those who came before them, and those challenges have played a significant role in shaping their development. Specifically, social media has been a major influence in the lives of all of us today. Social networking has made the world seem smaller, giving all people the ability to keep up with old and new friends around the country and across the globe. It has also produced an environment of competition, where the young and old alike are constantly confronted with the best versions of their friends. In addition, social networking has contributed to a lack of privacy, where young teens and their mistakes are exposed to the world and catalogued in a way that cannot be wiped clean.
While some lament the fact that social networking has changed the world in a negative way, others note that not all of the changes have been bad. In one sense, today’s teens and pre-teens have more opportunities than perhaps ever before. We currently live in a smaller world aided by globalization, and social networking has been at the head of that movement. Today’s, people are able to connect with people from around the world. They can make friends with people from different states and different cultures (Kaplan & Haenlein). I feel that Kaplan and Haenlein are correct in many ways, as I have been able to make and keep friends from all over the country and all over the planet. As they note, we are able to keep up with old friends from school, camp, and everywhere in-between. In the past, if a kid moved from one place to the next, he would have tremendous trouble keeping up with his former classmates. Things have changed, though, and now, students are able to link up with their former friends without much effort.
Today’s students also live in an environment of competition. Social networking has produced an atmosphere where individuals are able to project the best versions of themselves. Some go to sites like Facebook and Twitter to announce their successes. For pre-teens and teens, this might mean athletic accomplishments or doing well in school. It might going on great vacations with family or, for some young people, getting a date. Social networking does not encourage individuals to post the normal, more mundane details of their life. What this means, then, is that teens and pre-teens are consistently exposed to the best versions of their friends’ lives (Lenhart et al). This can foster an environment of competition where young people feel inadequate (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson).I feel that this can be true to some extent. When I see some of the portrayals of my friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instragram, I wonder just how they get to live such great, happy lives. All of us are often not satisfied with their own lives, and many suffer symptoms similar to depression. Rather than healthily building on our own accomplishments, we are encouraged to compare our progress to that of other people, a phenomenon that can have detrimental effects on children.
Perhaps the worst effect of the social networking revolution has been the permanency of mistakes. While pre-teens and teens have long made mistakes that they would like to outlive, social networking has given more exposure to those mistakes. Today’s young people put many things on the Internet, leading to criminal penalties for some and a loss of reputation for many others. Some argue that teens today are much more open with their lives, sharing more details about their activities. Others argue that those young people are just given an additional medium for sharing their feelings. Whatever the case, it is clear that social networking has made it more difficult for young people to outgrow their mistakes. The Internet has a certain amount of permanency to its arrangement. When people post things onto sites like Twitter and Facebook, that content can be memorialized into perpetuity (Lenhart). Often, when the content reflects poorly onto teens, the information can make it difficult for those teens to get into college, and if the information is damaging enough, secure employment in adulthood (Madden et al). The difference is not that today’s young people are more prone to make mistakes. Rather, it is just that today’s young people are broadcasting their mistakes and indiscretions at a much higher clip. I am not sure yet whether this will have a long-term impact on me, but there have been times where this research has seemed correct. I have wished I did not post something online, and given the nature of the Internet, it is difficult to correct those mistakes.
Social networking has changed the world, especially for young people. Compared to how teens and pre-teens lived a few decades ago, today’s young people have positive opportunities and a few risks, too. From a positive perspective, the world has never been smaller. Today’s young people are able to maintain friendships, develop relationships, and share content with people from around the world. They can understand and keep up with various perspectives from friends in parts of the world that they would have never been exposed to without social networking. Likewise, social networking has created a situation where young people are constantly comparing themselves not just to their friends, but to the best versions of their friends. This has created some difficulty for many teens and pre-teens, making adolescent depression a real issue that many parents, guidance counselors, and teachers have been forced to deal with. Worse still is the fact that many of today’s young people are putting their mistakes onto the Internet for all to see. While they may grow up, their mistakes often follow them, bringing about lifelong consequences of a serious nature. Social networking has not been all bad, and in the same way, it has not been all good. It has made life more complex and connected, bringing about positives and negatives, too.