Keeping up with the online Joneses, by B Wright

7th January 2016
Keeping up with the online Joneses, by B Wright

There is an article on the BBC website today titled “Chasing ‘perfect online life’ making young people unhappy”. Well, knock me over with a feather, tell me something I didn’t know. Like, ‘Why early chunky asparagus shocks farmer’ – oh, that’s there too.

Young people today face ever-more pressure whether it’s from parents, peers, (social) media, school and yes, even themselves.

And this pressure appears to be trickling down to an ever younger age.

In the article one girl commented "I use social media but it just makes me more depressed." This sums it up.

Attempting to chase the perfect online life is a futile exercise. It can’t be done. It can’t be done because these (perceived) perfect lives do not exist. They never have. No life is perfect. But do our children know, understand this or, in the words of the wonderful Peter Sarstedt, really care, or give a damn?

There’s nothing new about keeping up with the Joneses, whether it’s ‘Jones the Neanderthal’ (“my club’s bigger than yours”) or, more recently, ‘Jones the neighbour’ with the flashy car (that you know is on a hefty finance deal that sucks him dry each month).

But whereas back along keeping up with the Joneses extended to your neighbour, the house at the end of the street or even the town where you live, it now extends to the whole planet (and beyond in the case of Chris Hadfield, the Canadian guitar-playing astronaut. Although it’s impossible to keep up with him and he’s undeniably a pretty cool cat and educator. So he’s allowed to pass GO!).

I once asked my nephew what he’d done at the weekend. He said he’d been out clubbing and didn’t get to bed until 5am. “Wow, you were out all night”, I said. “No”, he replied. “We got back in at midnight and then spent the next 5 hours uploading photos to Facebook.”

It appeared to me that more time and energy had been spent taking photos and uploading them to Facebook than actually enjoying the moment. All to project that perceived ‘perfect life’ at college on Monday morning. After all, we are only too familiar with the sight of the smart phone held aloft at gigs and premieres. Enjoy the moment! Enjoy the moment! It’s so important it’s worth saying twice.

As adults we are, I hope, able to distinguish between the ‘real real’ and the ‘projected real’ often associated with social media. But can our children? We need to ensure they understand that an awful lot of what they read and see on social media is mere puffery.

It is well known that the best way to influence children is to lead by example. So one of the best ways to encourage children to read is for them to see you engrossed in a book. With this in mind perhaps a good New Year’s resolution would be for you to come off social media for a month, and to encourage them to do likewise. But this may of course lead you to drink – bang goes your dry January!

On a serious note, perhaps the mental-health implications of social media are hugely underestimated and in years to come MIND (or another) will be campaigning for a Facebook Free February (you read it here first!).

As you can imagine, I don’t do Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat etc. I think I have a LinkedIn profile somewhere. But I do use STRAVA for cycling and I’m off it for January. And you know what, riding is a little bit more fun. No checking segment times or KOMs. No kudos for hopelessly short, slow rides (surely Kudos should only be given for something which merits that virtual pat on the back).

So stop reading this, get off your smart phone, tablet or other device and, in the words of ‘Why Don’t You’, “Just switch off your television set [replace with smart phone, tablet or other device] and go out and do something less boring instead?” And for all of you too young to know what ‘Why Don’t You’ was, you’ll have to Google it, but not until February, mind!


N.B. I’ve only focused on the issue of projecting the perfect image online for children, not the many other issues such as trolling, bullying, sexting etc,. But social media is a good thing, right? Discuss.

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10th January 2016 - John
I think it's a much bigger problem than just spending too much time on social media, but to just concentrate on that - from an information point of view it's as if we've all won the lottery, and like those people you read about who win the real lottery and then have unhappy lives, some of us just can't cope. I doubt if many children could cope with winning an enormous sum on the real lottery, and I think most children struggle with the enormity of social media. What to do? This is where I think I disagree with something you say - "Young people today face ever-more pressure whether it’s from parents....". I think kids today are in a much more powerful position in the parent/child struggle than they were in the past. In some ways this is good (for instance child abuse is totally unacceptable now), but in other ways I think it's less than ideal. Why not simply not let your child have a phone if it's going to be a problem? Because pressure from the child (fuelled by peer pressure) outweighs parent rule? I rest my case. I'm also not sure about giving it up for a month. Why give it up for a month? You'll be absolutely gagging for Strava at the end of the month and vow to never ride anywhere without it again. Seriously, why not just let the child have fixed limited amount of social media time all year round? Finally, the irony of the (from left to right) Facebook, Twitter, blog and YouTube buttons below where I'm typing isn't lost on me :-)
11th January 2016 - Holly Wright
Good comments John and yes, the irony of calling for 'Facebook Free Feb' from our Facebook page wasn't lost on us either! I think from a parents' point of view you're 'damned if you do, and damned if you don't' when it comes to social media. As soon as a child has a phone, limiting social media time becomes impossible. You'll say 'then don't let them have a phone', which we can stick to with younger children but seems pretty harsh/uncompromising when they're teenagers. There's no easy answer - other than the obvious point of bringing your child up with enough self confidence, self belief, comfort in their own skin to be untroubled by the pressures of social media.
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