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Social media & what our kids could be teaching us

rachelsimmonsTwo years ago, when “selfie” was named “Word of the Year” and the spontaneous snapping of self-portraits on cellphones was being vilified as yet another example of youth’s narcissism, author and educator Rachel Simmons posted a bit of healthy disruption. She wrote in Slate, “Consider this: The selfie is a tiny pulse of girl pride – a shout-out to the self.” Simmons gets it. She adds, “Some girls are working it, sure, but others have their tongues half out as if to say, I know I look stupid. But I choose to, and I’m beating you to the judgment punch.”

And there’s the core issue right there: judgment. We so want our children to be spared the instant mass judgment that life in a fishbowl lets in. But our generation’s reflexive conclusions about their social photography and superficiality or narcissism look too much like that same snap judgment we want them to avoid receiving and sharing. When aware of that, we can consciously hold space for them to develop the resilience, agency and positive camaraderie that will not only protect them in and out of social media but also support their self-actualization. Simmons says it so perfectly that I’m just going to quote a whole chunk. She starts with the acknowledgement that, sure, “there is plenty that’s troubling about girls’ tendency to use Instagram to celebrate their physical appearance over their accomplishments….

But I worry more about a world of parents and educators that are overly invested in seeing all social media as problematic, and positioning girls as passive targets instead of agents of their own lives. Every girl is different, and context matters. The selfie flaunts the restrictions of ‘good girl’ culture like a badass teenager sitting in the back of the classroom, refusing to apologize for what she says. I, for one, want to sit next to her in detention.

Me too – what an interesting girl to get to know! I think the selfie also “flaunts the restrictions of” (or represents release from) an older generation’s unqualified, uncritical criticism of the media and media practices of youth – a generation that may not want to live as we do in a fast-paced, forward-projecting society that says “think before you post” but rarely slows down enough to do that necessary reflecting (think how we could deflate digital public shaming if the phrase went, “Think before you judge”). I suspect selfies, Snapchat snaps, little Vine videos and live blogging on Meerkat or Periscope are more about presence than ego – living this moment fully, together, and nourishing the camaraderie and community that protect and promote our (everybody’s) interests, including those of each individual in it. Amid all the likes, favorites and follows, something else is going on that, if we allowed them, our kids could be teaching us.

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