In their own words: what young people wish they knew about social media

It's dangerous. It's addicting. Get off your phone.

Children constantly hear about the disadvantages of social media of the adults in their lives, often in the form of serious warnings and orders. But these adults did not grow up with social media themselves.

They weren't given a phone as a toddler, just to keep them quiet in a restaurant. They didn't join TikTok's predecessor Musica.ly and did silly dances before they even learned to read. They didn't have their schools shut down during a global pandemictheir connections with friends and peers relegated to phone and computer screens.

Children who come of age with social media are moving forward into a whole new world. And now that they're getting older, they have some advice for their younger peers.

Here's what they wanted to know when they first went online.

“It's so easy to look at your friends' stories and feel the sense of FOMO, of missing out and comparing yourself, like, 'Oh, my friend just got a new car.' It's like this overwhelming sense of comparison. But the things people post on social media are just the highlights, like the 1% of their lives that they want to show to other people.”

—Bao Le, 18, freshman at Vanderbilt University

“My main advice would be not to take it too seriously. Stay yourself. I feel like what I was exposed to as a 12 year old was much more limited than what is accessible to 12 year olds today. Younger children want to be who they idolize. And when the TikTok stars or the social media stars are 20, 18, 16, they want to be just like them. You get younger kids who are now obsessed with products and brands, and it becomes really hard to be young. And it shouldn't be so hard to be young. You should enjoy your childhood. And we shouldn't rush into adulthood. It's okay to be twelve. It's okay to be young. It's okay to enjoy your childhood.”

—Doreen Malata, 22, a senior at the University of Maryland

“It seems like it would be really easy to just put your phone down and stop scrolling. But it isn't. If there was one piece of advice I could give my younger self, it would be to tell my parents to set time limits for me – even though I never would have said that when I started social media. Personally, I wouldn't let my child have TikTok either. I would try to resist it as long as possible. It's so addictive.”

—Sienna Keene, 17, a high school student in Orinda, California

“When you first get these apps, you're struck: BOOM, there's so much content. Styles, fashion models. It really has a big impact on you when you first get it, this feeling of, 'How do they do it? How do they look like this? How do they get clothes like that?' If you're new to social media, these trends may catch you up. I started using screen time (monitoring) on ​​my phone and limited the amount of time I spent on social media. I've been taking phone detoxes. On weekends, I do a social media detox for 10 hours or most of the day. I'm going to hang out with my family, ride my bike. I only have notifications for my messages and workspaces. I don't have notifications turned on for social media apps.”

—Ava Havidic, 18, a high school student in Broward County, Florida

“I often hear the term 'social media user', but I felt like I was being used by social media. I was in the routine of mindlessly scrolling through TikTok, just scrolling and scrolling and comparing myself to other people. It affected ultimately really my body image, my perception of what was considered beautiful or what was accepted in society But the only thing I got from social media was that I felt tired, otherwise I felt sad.

“You can use social media to expand your passions, but that requires you to do a lot of work outside of social media to discover who you are as a person, what is important to you and what contribution you can make to the world.”

—Lea Nepomuceno, 18, a freshman at George Washington University

“I would say: just don't use it. It's a bit of a waste of time. You just have conversations about pointless things, random pop culture things. It just sucks your time. You don't really get anything out of it, just short-term satisfaction. It's a bit pointless. “I know this is kind of bizarre, but I feel like there should be an age limit because I don't think kids should be on the internet.”

—Mikael Makonnen, 18, freshman at American University

“Many people artificially create their lives so that they are perceived in a certain way. And I think when I go into social media, I wish I knew that it's a tool to learn from. There is so much information and you can learn so much about different things. … I wish people had that vision instead of the whole idea that other people look at you and need to be seen a certain way.”

Nour Mahmoud, 21, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University

“You can't scroll through TikTok or look at Instagram without seeing supermodels who have edited their photos and promoted unrealistic beauty standards. I don't want to see these girls pretending to be fitness influencers, just promoting an eating disorder like body checking on my feed. That's one thing I wish I knew when I started: that it's okay to not want to watch that or consume it. It's okay to protect yourself and your own body image. Another thing I wish I knew is that not everyone on social media is your friend. If you're young and impressionable and people reach out to you, know that not everyone is as friendly as you think they are.

—Madeleine Maestre, 18, a freshman at Santa Clara University

__

Interviews by Almaz Abedje, Jocelyn Gecker and Barbara Ortutay

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