Social Networking: Pressures and Pitfalls and How to Stay on Top of Them [Teen Guest Post]

By Isabel & Emily Lluch, ages 16 and 14

Authors of The Ultimate Girls’ Guide to Understanding & Caring for Your BodyThe Fabulous Book of Me!, BFF: Best Friends Forever, and The Ultimate Girls’ Guide Journal to Feel Confident, Pretty & Happy

Isabel: Emily and I are pretty different when it comes to social networking. I have two social networking profiles and like to check them every day, and Emily just signed up for MySpace recently. I think she felt a little pressured, like she needed it to keep in touch with some friends now that they have graduated from middle school.

Emily: I wanted to be able to meet new people and keep in touch with my friends who also have MySpace. But I did kind of feel left out because I didn’t have a MySpace or Facebook account. Sometimes when people talked about it, it made me feel excluded.

Isabel: Although I wouldn’t exactly say I felt pressured, I first signed up for my profiles because people at school would talk about what someone put on their profile, and I felt like I wanted to see too. When kids talk about these sites it definitely makes people who aren’t involved want to join them to feel more included.

Emily: I held out for a long time, but I’m glad I have one now so I can keep in touch with friends who are going to different high schools.

Isabel: I think social networking has a lot benefits because it helps you get to know people better and branch out to more people, but there are also some downsides to watch out for. You can literally get addicted to these sites. At first, spending time on these sites did cause me to procrastinate and my grades actually went down. Once my parents realized, they had to set restrictions on how long I could go online.

Emily: That was one of the reasons that I didn’t want to sign up at first. I decided to wait until summer so being on MySpace wouldn’t interfere with my grades.

Isabel: It was a good experience for me though, because I know how to use social networking sites in moderation now. Parents can set limits or block these sites, but kids figure out how to sneak around it. The only thing that worked for me was letting me realize on my own that wasting time on these sites is bad for me. I would tell parents to let kids figure it out by themselves.

Emily: How can kids keep from becoming addicted to checking their accounts?

Isabel: By interacting with REAL people and having actual lives! You can’t get so wrapped up in what’s going on online, because it isn’t always real. People can stretch the truth, lie about their personality and interests, or make themselves seem cooler than they are. Put your energy into real things, like school, clubs, or a job.

The other issue with social networking is staying above the drama. Teenagers can be insensitive or gossipy and it’s too easy to hide behind the Internet. And it’s easy to get your feelings hurt if you’re not careful.

Emily: Before I even had an account, my feelings were hurt by social networking. My best friend started acting differently and almost a little defensive and later I found out that she had gotten a MySpace and didn’t even tell me! Then, I looked at her pictures and I was only in one. All of this combined hurt very deeply, because we always tell each other everything. Ever since, our friendship hasn’t been completely the same.

Now that I have a MySpace, I have found that the main thing that bothers me is when I’m looking at some of my friends’ profiles and I’m not on their top friends, but some of my other friends are. It makes me feel like I did something to make them angry at me, or maybe they don’t like me as much as I thought. I don’t know what they’re thinking — I just see what I see online — and it can really hurt my feelings.

Isabel: It’s hard, but you have to try and not interpret everything you see on social networking sites. In the end, it’s just MySpace. If you make the effort to call and spend time with people, you know they are your real friends. When it comes to online drama, if the teen is really bothered by something, they can either delete their site or block the other person they are having the problem with.

Emily: I learned that fighting about something you saw or heard online is pointless. If there’s any tension, don’t get involved with it — don’t take sides and don’t talk bad about another person because everything can spread so far online.

Isabel: Plus, what you post online stays there forever, even if you try to delete it. Kids don’t realize that!

Emily: To stay above any drama, I think you just have to always be yourself. If you get a social networking site, use it to express yourself, not to make yourself out to be someone you’re not.

Isabel: And just be smart and don’t post things that are inappropriate or mean. It will stay with you forever. Use your sites in moderation, simply to update your friends on what you’re up to, and it can be really fun to have them.

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