Name: Shealagh Brower
From: Staten Island, NY
There is something about being a teenager that makes us feel untouchable. We wear our name-brand t-shirts and jeans like a cloak of invincibility. We truly believe nothing bad could ever happen to us. Our schools require us to attend assemblies about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. We roll our eyes as we listen to the testimonials, “Yeah, like I’ll ever be like that loser,” we whisper to our friends. Most of what is said sounds more like the “Wah Wah” of the Peanuts teacher’s voice to us, rather than anything relevant to our lives.
The same teens spend hours scrolling through social media pages. During that time, how often are they saddened or angered by something they see or perhaps envious of someone else’s posts? There was a time when society mostly worried about teenagers and peer pressure or how adolescents would measure themselves up next to the perfect-looking role models that graced the covers of magazines. Eventually those kids would grow up and settle into their adult lives, peer pressure and idolization often a thing of the past.
You used to only know so much about people’s lives. You might be jealous of the prettiest girl in school who walked around like a Goddess, but you may not know much about what happened to her outside of school other than the occasional gossip. Now, with social media, we have other people’s lives displayed before us in real time—or the life they choose to portray on social media. Instead of having a handful of “cool kids” and celebrities to aspire to be, with social media we are now surrounded by hundreds of seemingly perfect lives of friends, families, neighbors, and even acquaintances. All day we witness people’s vacations, social activities, the buying of new cars, homes, and expensive handbags. Scrolling through some social media sites, it seems like every day is a party. But what happens when you’re not invited? What happens when you’re watching people spend, spend, spend right after you have lost your job? How does a person feel when they are down on their luck and everyone around them is living the high life?
People turn to drugs and alcohol for many reasons. Many probably start because of peer pressure. Others might be curious and think it will only be one time. However, a lot of people turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape from their lives. Maybe some people have relatively normal, successful lives, but their perception of their lives may become less than when they compare it to the lives of those on their newsfeeds.
Unfortunately, the consequences of even “just one time” can be very severe. Just one time can lead to just one lethal injection; just one deadly car crash; just one theft for drug money; just one disease like hepatitis or HIV/AIDS contracted through a needle; just one night in jail; just one lawyer’s fee; just the destruction of one family; just one society shattered.
There have been many efforts made in education to teach children about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Other proposals to help the crisis have included screening programs, as well as crack-downs on drugs and the over-prescription of addictive pain medications. Ultimately, though, this is not enough.
Clearly the dangers of drugs don’t scare all people away. Again, many people think “that won’t happen to me.” In conjunction with education about drugs, young children need to be spared the rose-colored world of social media for as long as possible. Before they are introduced, they need to be informed of how social media posts can be very misleading. Children need to be told that sometimes pictures posted with friends were not taken at that very moment in time, so they may not be missing a hang-out. Also, sometimes people pass each other in the street, snap a quick photo and then move on, it doesn’t mean there was an official social gathering. Oftentimes people post their vacation “highlights” but later complain to close family and friends about how it was their worst vacation ever. Before young people sign on, they need to understand that the grass is not always greener, and that people usually present themselves online how they most want to be seen, not necessarily how they really are.
From a very young age, we need to be shown how to live in the present, and how to be grateful for who we are without trying to compare ourselves to others. This can start at home and continue in school. How often in school do teachers compare their students? How often do parents compare their kids? You should be more like Johnny . . . Our desire to be more like Johnny can lead us down a very dark path that may steer us straight to drugs and alcohol. Having a healthy relationship with ourselves is the key. We need to be happy with who we are and our lives, so we don’t dwell on the idea that our lives are not as great as the lives of those around us.
There is something about being a teenager that makes you feel untouchable. But there is also that something that makes many feel alone, misunderstood, left out, and judged. Communities need to work together to build up their children so they are not easily knocked down by what they see on social media and left to crawl down the wrong path.