|Photo by Summer Skyes 11|
Often when talks of teenagers come up, particularly teenage girls, people feel the need to express just how dramatic and sensitive teenagers are. Everything is so monumental, so personal. They also like to go on and on about how kids these days demand so much attention and turn to things like social media and blogging to gain some sort of recognition for existing. Or something, I don't know.
Basically, in my mind, it boils down to people 1) forgetting what it was like to be a teenager, and 2) believing that adults as a whole have "grown out" of the craving for attention or "drama." To which I say lolololololol right.
I will admit that the nature of growing up in the quickly developing landscape of social media and the Internet is very interesting to me. My day job involves working closely with social media and figuring out how and why people respond to the things they do, so it's a very relevant topic in my life. Personally, I think social media is both fabulous and frustrating. Fabulous because it can create communities and give people access to information and support systems they'd have a lot of difficulty finding before, and frustrating because although it can connect so many wonderful people, it also gives voice to the multitude of craptastic, troll-y people who exist in the world.
And I feel like this ties directly into being a teenager in this world.
As those of us who work with and write for teens typically understand, experiences are such a very big deal because they're new. After you've reached adulthood and presumably had a number of life experiences under your belt, sometimes repeatedly, they've clearly lost their newness. But when they were brand new, they were a big deal. And because those experiences are so fresh, so raw, it makes you feel like you're alone. You're unique in a sea full of strangeness.
This powerful feeling of individualism can lead to wanting to express yourself, to becoming desperate to find a kindred spirit. You want to speak, and you want to be heard. Young people often feel ignored, by adults and their peers. So where better to turn than the Internet community, where you can reach out into the great blue something and have people find you, hear you, and respond to you?
It makes for a potent cocktail. As I mentioned, people often describe teens as "dramatic," as though they're performing their emotions for an audience. In reality, it's usually less about putting on a show and more about wanting to be heard and understood. When you turn to sites like Tumblr, you can find that in spades. Yes, teens (and adults, let's be honest) can find an audience there, and the inclination to "perform" for that audience can be high. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing. It's all part of the pain of growing into adulthood -- it helps you find a voice, a passion, maybe even a calling. It helps you feel appreciated and less alone. Teens who feel like outcasts in society (gay/lesbian teens, trans* teens, disabled teens, POC teens, etc.) can find incredible support systems that they might never have had years ago. That's pretty amazing.
Whenever I hear people my age (BECAUSE I'M SO OLD, GUYS) or older bitching about how "these kids" won't get off their damn phones or blogs and go outside once in a while, I kind of roll my eyes. They don't understand that this is where people (not just kids) are finding community these days. I've met some of my very best friends over the miracle that is the Internet. People that I'm incredibly close to and talk to on a daily basis. People who came to my wedding. But we leave miles and miles, sometimes countries, apart. We never would have found each other were it not for coming together in an online community, talking until someone found us and liked what we had to say, and connecting with each other.
So, yes, sometimes the actions of teenagers can see over the top and melodramatic. Sometimes it feels like they're performing. But 1) this is not symptomatic of adolescence alone, and 2) so what? Maybe it's more important to understand why this is what's connecting with them.
What do you think, readers? How do you feel about teenagers, social media, and the Internet at large?