Reality, or not

True disclosure.  I’m hoping this column will cause you to talk to your children—if only to say “see, someone agrees with me!”

Today’s topic is how the falsity of Facebook, etc., is messing with our kids’ heads.  In earlier columns I’ve occasionally commented on the amount of time wasted on social media. I’ve groused about how we’re all turning into brands, not human beings.

Well, you and I are old enough to recognize the problem. But what about your kids?

It’s like this.  You get together with some friends to watch a game, or go to the mall, or…anything.   Out come the cell phones.   And suddenly your afternoon with friends is an E*V*E*N*T, with pictures and videos posted in real time.   And the message is always the same.

Look at me!  Look at us!  We’re having F*U*N!  Probably more fun than you!  Or maybe we’re just finally catching up to all the fun you’re always having!

Imagine:  your twelve year old daughter gets an invitation to a girlfriend sleep over.  Consider the anxiety into which she is immediately plunged.  Who’s coming?  Which girl will be doing the main video posting?  Does she like me?  I mean—does she really like me, or is she just pretending?  What will I wear?  What kind of nightgown or droopy t-shirt looks best in a sleepover Facebook video?   Will some of the girls be wearing makeup in the pictures or the videos?  Should I be wearing makeup?  What if they do and I don’t?  What if I do, and they don’t?

Will I look like I’m having enough fun?  What if she takes a picture and I look droopy-eyed, or like I’m making a face or something?  Would she post it anyway because maybe she wants me to look bad?—or at least not as good as her?  Will the picture make my friends think I’m dumb? If I don’t look happy enough will they think I don’t really like them?  Will I not get invited to the next sleepover?  Will I be cut out of the group and have to look at pictures of them having fun while I’m stuck at home with my dumb little brother?

So much worry over such a little event.  And that’s just one day and one event.  Now envision 365 days a year and ten years of adolescence.   This is modern life for your child.

And none of it is real.  It’s all just theater.

Yes, children need to learn the social graces of proper behavior in public.  But they’re children, and they learn it in short spurts, and then have their friends to fall back on, sitting up late, discussing the mysteries of grownups and older teenagers, before reverting back to the children they still are in a cascade of pillow fights or other acts of supreme silliness.

We all understand that occasionally we’re going to be on stage.  But there should be plenty of downtime between performances, especially when we’re young, so we can process our successes and failures with friends and family who will quietly love us no matter what.

But these days there is no down time.  When William Shakespeare wrote “all the world’s a stage,” he had no idea how literally true his words would one day become.

And this is where children struggle.  “This isn’t theater,” they say, “this is my L*I*F*E.”

I think we need to be clear on this.  “Yes, it is your life.  But all this endless video posting is also theater.  It’s you the brand, not you the person.”

The fact that it will be difficult for your child to understand the difference between the two is a sign of how bad it’s all become.

And it seems clear to me that the crushing modern need to merge the two (the human being and the brand) into one visual unit is not a recipe for good mental health in the mind of a child stumbling towards maturity.

Every age has its own battles to fight, and this one is theirs.   Just make sure you love the child, not the brand.  Be their reality check.  I’m not sure we understand how much they need one.

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