Why Kids Are Leading Double Lives
One Teen Explains How Kids Navigate the “Online Self” vs. “Real Self”
By Sydney Alexander, age 17
It seems that as I grow up, the more I notice the effects of social media. It’s not just hindering our ability to communicate with one another, but even our desire for real connection with other people. You can see this as we have learned to advertise certain aspects of our lives while keeping others in the dark. We’ve learned how to show the world how happy we are, while the sad aspects of our reality are hidden. Adults seem to follow this pattern, but it’s even more exaggerated in teenagers.
A parent might expect you to act one way: dressing modestly, using clean language, and speaking with respect to those around you. But as I have come to notice with my own friends and even occasionally myself, it’s very easy to show several different faces of who you are to different audiences when you have the comfort of a screen.
On Instagram we often see peoples’ beautiful accounts with smiling families and savoured moments. And although that may be the case for some teenagers, most of us have what is called a “spam” account, or “finsta.” These are usually full of silly selfies, occasionally inappropriate, and usually language parents wouldn’t approve of. Only the closest friends are allowed to to follow this account.
Of course this isn’t the case with everyone, but for the most part these accounts are created to show a more “raw” self–someone who doesn’t need to follow parents’ rules. The real, or “rinsta” account has become more of an advertisement for the public: a place for your very best pictures, and poetic captions full of humor and happiness–the account your parents can follow.
This duality obviously transfers over into our actual lives. We go to school all day, and it becomes easy to “be” that other person we have created on social media–slipping in bad language, sneaking immodest clothes to school, anything really. When we get home from school, due to the fact that many families spend less and less time together, teenagers can easily put on that Instagram smile and do as they’re told in that short time with their families. It reminds me a lot of a toddler throwing a tantrum in front of their parents, and as soon as the parent walks away, the child is fine, with no more tears.
Teenagers are not that different. I know many many girls who have a separate personality in front of their parents: their language is clean, kind, and respectful, they dress modestly and speak highly of others and themselves. Then I see the very same girls at school using bad language, vaping in the bathrooms, and hanging out with boyfriends that their parents haven’t even met.
Teens only see their families for a small portion of their day so naturally it’s easy to hide a lot of who you are when parents aren’t supervising. If families were spending more time together, and if parents monitored their kids, there would not be such a disconnect between our “online self” and our “real self.” Parents would easily see right through that fakeness, and really see what their children could be going through–whether they’re being bullied or being the bully, whether they’re following family rules only at home or at all times.
So what can parents do to help their kids be real and merge their online persona with their “real life” face?
First, parents need to set an example of being real. Show us how to be online without filtering photos and only showing our families smiling on vacation or dressed up for holidays. Let people see the real you. Show us how to speak kindly even when we are behind a screen and not face-to-face with others. When you disagree with someone online, do so in a manner you would only do if the person was right in front of you–and then show your interaction to your kids.
Next, everyone needs less screen time–parents included. We get it; you don’t want us glued to our phones. But don’t just tell us to get off our phones and then turn on the TV. You don’t have to provide a show or entertainment for us. Instead, we should have time together that means something. My dad and I like to go on walks and just talk. It helps him understand me better and helps me understand him better. This is something simple that I love to do with him.
Show an interest in us. Talk to us. We are not going to share the important stuff with you if you won’t listen to the “little stuff.” Because here is the secret: It’s all “big stuff” to us. Honestly, what helps me feel best understood and known to my parents is talking about my entire day to them at the dinner table. My siblings and I all go through our day and yes, some days it does seem long when there is homework waiting–but it helps my parents understand how I’m doing.
LISTEN TO US. Parents need to learn how to listen to their children without it becoming a lecture, or them giving advice. Sometimes we really just want to be heard by you. We need to feel like our parents really are on our side.
Finally, we need more affection. I don’t know many kids who get enough hugs, high fives, goodnight kisses, or whatever your family likes to do. Research shows that kids are less anxious and emotionally happier when their parents are affectionate with them. Our brains literally change as a result of affection (Schwartz, 2018). Think about ways that you can incorporate more hugging into your daily routines–and not just for your younger kids, but for your teens too!
For more ideas on how to connect with your kids, check out Educate and Empower Kids’ book 30 Days to a Stronger Child. It has lots of discussions and activities that you can do with younger kids, older kids, and teenagers.
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Sydney Alexander enjoys playing piano and creating art such as photography and painting. She is in National Honor Society at her school, and is a student aid for the special needs class as well! She is learning Spanish and enjoys writing poetry. She can be found on Instagram under the handles: @lookinmylenses (photography page) and @sydneysquotes (inspiring quotes account).
Schwartz, S. (2018, January 30). How a Parent’s Affection Shapes a Child’s Happiness for Life. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from https://www.parent.com/how-a-parents-affection-shapes-a-childs-happiness-for-life/