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Kids and Social Media Personas

by Jul 31, 2018

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Most people would like to be wealthier, prettier, have more fun, be more worldly and more popular – basically be the social media persona they have crafted for themselves.

This strive to create a social media persona is even more prevalent among adolescents. They feel pressure to present themselves on social media in a way that they believe their peers would want to perceive them.

Social Media and Popularity

Adolescents struggle with popularity in the real world. Add to that the complexity of negotiating the social media world where popularity is measured in friends, followers, likes, and streaks. Kids may feel pressure to friend or follow people that they don’t know IRL (in real life) by increasing their numbers so they appear more popular to friends. We see friends of our daughter who follow or are being followed by thousands of people on social media. These kids do not know thousands of people. They are not influencers. They are suburban middle school kids.

The Race for Likes

The movie Generation Like highlights the lengths that adolescents will go to in order to maintain a certain social media perception. They will post to their social media profile, but if the post doesn’t gain much traction, or likes, they will delete the post so as to not appear unpopular. This roller coaster plays with their emotions.

Fake Personas

Probably the most troubling part of the social media is when adolescents curate personas that are not representative of their real selves and values. For example, they only post photos when they’re having a great time, are hanging out with people that they want to be seen with or when they receive an expensive gift or the hot new shoes. They may be afraid to post something that could be perceived as boring or mundane.

Talk To Your Kids

So how do we approach this with our kids? We have talked to our daughter about the value of maintaining real friendships on social media. We carefully explained to our daughter that people who have thousand of followers don’t have thousands of real life friends. Furthermore, I’ll go out on a limb and say that adolescents don’t have hundreds of friends in the real world. In a recent Wall Street Journal article the author talks about the work of the anthropologist, Professor Robin Dunbar, who studied relationships and concluded that you can only maintain relationships with about 150 people. The author goes on to connect Professor Dunbar’s theory to social media. Given there are only so many hours in the day, and as humans it is far more important to have relationships IRL (in real life), that 150 number is probably a pretty good rule of thumb for both adolescents and adults. The idea of thousands of friends or followers is, especially for kids is ridiculous and parents should be concerned if their kids are carrying these social media numbers.

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