How Social Media Is Massacring The Teenage Years
On a Sunday afternoon in the late summer of 2015, my incredibly generous friend and I were lounging on the couch catching up on the latest mayhem of Real Housewives, when her cell phone let out the noise that signals for attention.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that her daughter was in big trouble. I had to wait for my friend to catch her breath through the sobbing to explain the seriousness of the unfolding situation, and why we had to immediately leave the city for New Haven, CT.
Her bubbly, vibrant and articulate 15-year-old girl was on psychiatric hold, pending further evaluation. She had a disturbing conversation with one of her closest friends, and the aftermath resulted in a panicked 9–1–1 call. When the cops showed up unannounced, and with the authority that something awful was transpiring, the terrified father and step-mother rushed to the room, and discovered the staged evidence, but thankfully nothing had happened — yet.
The weeks after were harrowingly revealing, as the details slowly filtered in with the potential of condemning the naivety of two parents who never saw this coming. They never imagined that their precious girl’s unmonitored access to Instagram and chat rooms could result in her abrupt need to exit the real world when the make-believe version would become too hard to take.
I was also pained beyond belief that she had been allowed to navigate treacherous territory with little or no supervision. And when I expressed my shock and irritation, my friend tiredly admitted defeat. Her weakened demeanor forced me to reconsider my stance, especially since I’m not parenting in this era of selfies, that initiates how job requirements demand that applicants showcase the number of followers matching the population of a small town before consideration.
We later found out that the emotionally-battered teen had been engaging with a guy she’d never met, but who seemed quite committed and attentive. He said all the right things and made her feel special, until he stopped. The sudden switch was disarmingly brutal. But what was really fucked up was the fact that this person never existed. He was the brainchild of the teenage niece of my friend’s friend, who thought it would be hilarious to take advantage of a youngster’s fragile temperament for her own amusement.
Major steps were taken by my friend, her ex, and his wife to provide the level of compassion and guidance for healing. The devastation of that incident was a tough lesson to learn, but it was the necessary wakeup call for parents who were never prepared for this terrifying climate that was manufactured for our ceaseless torment.
The young victim survived her battle and is now victoriously enjoying her college years, with the full support of the adults in her life, and the newfound wisdom of what it means to be responsibly social and why that level of discipline is non-negotiable.
That intensely debilitating experience also altered my universe as I pondered the psychology of the teenager who weaponized the tools of engagement to suit her nefarious plot to emotionally abuse her friend for no reason other than to validate her absolute power.
There’s also the frustration of how we were fooled to believe that having the ability to exert our authority in ways that harm and terrorize without consequences, wouldn’t be the end of the world, when in reality, it’s the nightmare that’s spearheading our extinction.
Netflix’s Social Animals, is one of many documentaries that attempts to make sense of the chaotic lifestyle of “influencers” who are carried away by the initial wave of recognition that has to be enhanced at all costs. Even it means developing the habitual activity of climbing landmark skyscrapers for that perfect shot, like New Yorker, Humza Deas, one of the three subjects that are profiled in this enlightening offering about the extraordinariness of these times
Humza captures incredible images of the city that go viral based on the uniqueness of angles and how his growing fan base help to spread the word, which also benefits their status as followers, helping to elevate a future star. There is nothing too daunting to explore because the feedback and impressive amount of “likes” compensate for the extremeness of this sport that involves sky-walking without the guarantee that accidental slipping won’t occur.
Watching the process of “building hopping,” reminded me of the research that I did some weeks ago when I curated an essay about the deadliness of social media as it pertains to adrenaline seeking influencers, who are known for their signature risk taking moves, and how their tragic deaths from miscalculation leaves behind the desolation of Instagram pages or YouTube channels with the #RIP sign offs.
But it’s really Emma Robinson’s story that snatched most of my attention since it hit close to home with similarities to my friend’s daughter, and how both teenagers grew up in simple environments that didn’t prepare them for the cunning devises of evil geniuses.
Emma was raised in small town America, and her life was playing out in the same fashion that matches a young girl in a modestly sized high school, who exchanges text messages with friends and the guys who want to be more than friends.
It sounds nostalgically relatable until the tools of our destruction begin to overtake a once manageable landscape, and very soon friendships explode over the “copy and paste” method of shaming a vulnerable girl with the proof of what she sent to a guy that she trusted based on their loving DMs.
Once her friend receives the forwarded text that questions her loyalty, Emma is left with the barrage of insults from her new nemesis, who isn’t interested in an apology and proceeds to make things very difficult for someone that she apparently cared about hours earlier.
Emma is forced out and she makes drastic changes to get her life back on track, but even those efforts lead to the same road of disillusionment that force her to reconcile how powerless we all are in this climate of self-obsession.
Those habits were always there but have now become domineeringly pervasive, thanks to the imagery that perpetually makes even the most confident human feel like shit as the clicks get more rampant.
When Emma exhaustively admits that “looks matter, if you’re good-looking, you basically have it all” — it’s in reaction to what none of us can escape if we dare to remain “social.”
Her words also resonate with the curiosity that envelops when I contemplate how I would’ve been able to retain some sense of sanity as a teenager, who actively engages on platforms that display varieties of perfection, that are meant to taunt taste buds with the recklessness of how we deserve to live our #bestlives with the very worst of intentions, and the executions of purposed deceit.
Would I have resorted to the extreme measures of avid recognition as the poor man’s replica of Kylie Jenner who looks decades older than 21, or would I be the doll-like description of exuberance dwelling in a million-dollar compound, on the cusp of entrepreneurial greatness like 15-year-old Kaylyn Slevin.
Kaylyn’s “Princess-styled” bedroom is fitting for the petite energizer bunny, who confesses that her mother wasn’t thrilled about her initial foray into the wildness of Instagram, until the mind-blowing numbers sealed the bedazzled future of the cute-as-a-button blonde, who unsurprisingly has aspirations to be a swimsuit model.
The burgeoning fashion designer has a straightforward philosophy for what it means to be an achiever in this densely-crowded marketplace of dreamers, who definitely need the palatable backdrop of a plushly erected closet, and the trust fund of champions in order to confidently bypass life lessons in favor of a teenage summation that states how:
Success + Success = More Success
Kaylyn’s “success” wasn’t planned. It randomly happened after posting pics of her #bestlife that made new followers envious and hungry for more, which in turn sparked the fire that encouraged the budding influencer to aim for the stars.
She hit the magical goal of 500K followers, and that got her excited enough to strategize how to leverage her newfound power. Her proud papa is willing to put up the capital for his teenage daughter’s ventures because at this point “she’s already a brand,” who represents “an emerging market.”
It’s hard to project how Kaylyn’s “hard work” of snapping and posting photos with the help of her adoring friend will seamlessly manifest the empire on her vision board, but her well-documented lavish lifestyle will certainly protect her from the curve balls along way.
And therein lies the direness of being socially aware of the folks who are able to indulge in the fantastical realm of “no work, and all play” blueprint, that youngsters are pressured into replicating, even when they’re woefully incapable of evoking that privilege as effortlessly as the “Kaylyns” of the world.
Emma put it best when she emerged from the dark clouds with the realization of how
“On social media you can edit yourself to who you want to be. But in real life you’re stuck with you are.”
Ain’t that the truth!
She also exposes the ferocious culture of dating, and how it begins and ends with the screens of devices, and the offensiveness that has been normalized since “booty pics” and “dick pics” are causally shared by classmates, who demand to approve or disapprove before committing.
Social Animals made its debuted at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival, and clearly the goal was to expose the trials, tribulations and obsessive gratification that embrace the psyche of a generation that came of age when Apple products and streaming were already the norm.
You want to admire their good fortune and marvel at how well they verify why “age is nothing but a number” when you have access to limitless means of amassing overnight rewards without suffering the hard labor of 8-hour work shifts and manual timesheet entries.
But then the downside is a steep and jagged plunge to utter despair that’s lethal enough to produce irrevocable damage. And it’s all because of how we “gave the people behind social media too much power,”
Mark Zuckerberg and his crew of billionaire misfits absolutely didn’t give a damn about the immense responsibility that comes with mind-fucking innocents, who lose their sensibilities to the point of no return when assigned the daunting task of accommodating animalistic tendencies of “eat or be eaten,” without the rulebook of survival.
“Winging it” has turned out to be the life or death quest that has been eerily accepted as the standard.
Guess that was the plan all along.