‘But wait, I tell them, and I ask them this all the time…’ She was clutching her drink and looking at me intently, making me understand the single most important piece of information that she was trying to impart to a group of young girls in her office. ‘I ask them…are you actually having fun?’
It was around 11:30 at night, and I had been at a standing inside a pub packed with people (half were drunk, half were on their way to getting drunk, and I’d had one drink so far and I didn’t belong in either group). I had been chatting to a girl who was bubbly and personable, and she possessed the energy of a girl that wanted to know as much as she could about people, and also wanted to tell them everything she knew. We had been talking for about 45 minutes before she asked me that one simple question. The lead up to it was good: it was a committed monologue on the navel-gazing population of dewy-skinned kids that were more concerned about their thigh gaps than who was buying their next drink.
‘I mean, you know?’ she took another sip of her drink. ‘It’s so simple. I work with these young girls on my team, and they’re all– you know what it’s like with this younger generation– everything has to be about a certain level of fitness, and lifestyle choices that represent their lives in the perfect way on social media, and they’re hyper-aware about their outfit choices.’ She took another drink and then leaned in. ‘But. Are they actually having fun?’
And that’s when it hit me. There is a whole generation right now, and more generations after that, that will never know the feeling of anonymity at 12. 16. 18. 25. There are parents out there that encourage their kid to ‘stay relevant on Instagram’ (yes, this is a true story, I heard of a father who had said that to his teenage daughter). I had the anonymity to figure out my youth; my children probably won’t (although, to be fair, my husband and I have made a decision, ever since we confirmed the pregnancy and arrived home with a sonogram, not to put our kids fully ‘out there’, as it were, until they decide to, themselves).
Now, obviously, I’m approaching this topic in that slightly ‘oh, back in my day’ old-fashioned perspective, and I appreciate that we all have to roll with the times, to a degree. But. I had the wonderful (and sometimes horrendous) pleasure of living my teen years and early 20s without the hyper-awareness of smartphones filming and photographing my incredible failures and embarrassments. I lived my life without filters, without regrets that a picture of me with a drink or a joint would go viral, the only danger would be that an incident like that would spread through word of mouth from about ten different people and eventually get back to my parents, with no photo evidence. I didn’t have to worry that there would be a YouTube video of me stumbling out of a club and throwing up in an East Village gutter would be shown on Instagram stories. I didn’t have to suck in my stomach and do a bikini selfie in order to prove my worth in comparison to a Kardashian’s Instagram. I was kind of free to wander through those years looking outwardly and figuring out my own worth and how not to feel so lost. It was important. It still really is, I think, but it’s much harder for people to navigate.
I think in these years, as a parent to young kids today I have to work so much harder to counteract all this so that my kids not only feel like they understand social media but also not have to rely on it for any kind of validation or purpose. People say all the time, ‘social media is my photo album’, which is a view I can understand to a degree, but I still don’t understand why it can’t be as simple as taking a photo on a smartphone and emailing it to friends and family, if you want to feel connected? Is that an antiquated view? Possibly. I don’t know. I just think that as much as children need to stay in contact with friends on so many of these platforms, they also need to know that there’s so much of life that they have to experience without the need to compare their experience to other people’s mistakes, and joys and achievements.
Kids are here to stumble, and fall, and soar and live out loud; but most importantly, they’re here to have fun. All of us are. All of us need to be reminded.
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