Social Pressure: How different generations are navigating the online world

On Your Side

These days, everyone is online.

Well, almost everyone. More than 80 percent of Americans have social media profiles.

Social media has obvious benefits. You can stay connected with friends, share the latest meme and keep up with the news in real time.

But there’s a negative side, too. 

With social media comes pressure to compete with others, which can lead to feelings of insecurity and even isolation. 

To find out how different generations try to keep social media in perspective, 9 On Your Side spent one month talking to middle schoolers, high schoolers and parents in Pitt County about some of the challenges they face online.

For middle and high schoolers in Pitt County, it is hard to remember life without smart phones.

Tenth-grader Samantha Kros spends five to six hours a day on her phone.

She said people her age often equate their worth to the amount of likes, comments and followers they have online.

“I will post a picture, and I only got 100 likes. I normally get 200 likes,” Samantha said. “Where did my friends go?”

Studies show that when someone likes your post, dopamine is released in your brain.

This can make people obsessed with getting ‘likes,’ some even deleting their post if it does not get enough likes.

Samantha’s younger sister, Sabrina Kros, said she spends more than half of her day online.

“I will be on my phone, just like scrolling through,” Sabrina said.

Therapist Sean Pumphrey said children who spend more than two hours a day on social media are increasingly becoming more depressed.

He said people miss out on two key restorative factors when they are on their phones: exercise and face-to-face social interaction.

“If humans have high social interaction, they are less likely to have dementia,” Pumphrey said. “They are happier. They feel better about themselves and live longer.”

The girls’ mom, Novine, said she spends less time on social media than her daughters.
“I sometimes get sick of looking at Facebook, because I get tired of seeing, ‘Oh, we did this; we did that,’” Novine said.
Novine and her friend, Shawne Llewellyn, said peoples’ highlight reels are on full display on Facebook.

“My kid got all A’s, and my kid made this team, and my kid made this,” Llewellyn said.

They said that although they do not feel pressure to compete with their friends online, it is possible that their teenagers do.

Samantha said she feels like there is a pressure for middle and high school-aged girls to be perfect.

“Social media definitely plays a big role in that because you see all these bloggers and 
Youtubers and Instagrammers and the Kardashians and everybody, and you see them living to this ideal, perfect standard with like a skinny waist and a big butt and a perfect face,” Samantha said. “All these girls are looking up and saying, ‘Oh, I want to look like that. That is how it is going to be if I want to be famous. or I want to be pretty or I want to get a boyfriend.’ I think it is hard for girls now to really be secure with themselves because there is so much pressure on them to be perfect and look a certain way.”

She said she sometimes feels that pressure.
“It’s hard because it is mostly a girl-against-girl world; like nobody is really there to build you up in the grand scheme of things,” Samantha said.

Samantha said things started getting difficult when she was around her sister’s age.

“She is having a hard time right now; I can tell,” Samantha said.

Samantha’s sister, Sabrina, is in eighth grade.

“In like seventh grade in summer, that is when a lot of stuff started blowing up about looking this way and that way because before I never really cared,” Sabrina said “I just think social media in general kind of affects me and makes me feel pressure to do things and look a certain way.”

Teenage boys said they feel some pressure as well.

“You see like a star athlete, they just hit 3 home runs, and the week before they just won a state championship in basketball and like taking pictures with their friends,” tenth grader Tanner Twiddy said. “It is hard to make you feel like you equate to that.”

Pumphrey said the more people compete with those who appear better off, the worse they may feel.

“When folks compare to other human beings that are doing well, they feel more depressed,” Pumphrey said.

Samantha said as she wraps up her sophomore year, she is trying to figure out ways to be happier and focus on herself.

“I have been so many wonderful places and I have so many wonderful friends, and I have had so many great experiences,” Samantha said. “Just because I am not doing what they are doing at that point doesn’t mean that I am not as good as them or I don’t have the same experiences they do. You have to make the most out of what you have.”

Experts said social pressure can affect people of all ages.

A group of four ECU students 9 On Your Side spoke with said appearing professional online is crucial for them to enter the next chapter of their lives.

“For me, I am a pre-health professional, so I definitely have to make my social media look really good,” said ECU junior Kaitlin Brown.

“You never know who is looking at your stuff,” said ECU sophomore Wesley Hollingsworth. “You know, you want to maintain a front that you are having fun, but you don’t want to do too much.” 

They said they spend quite a bit of time on apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter.

“Like every minute probably, every spare minute I have,” Brown said. “In class, when I am bored…”

Instagram’s primary demographic is 18- to 29-year-olds.

With the majority of their friends being online, they said their social media presence sometimes turns into more of an obligation than just a fun distraction. They said when they go to events, they feel obliged to post a picture for social media.

“If not just to post, just like at least to put on my Snapchat story to let people know what I am doing,” Brown said.

They also discussed how to strike a balance between being connected online, but not being consumed by it.

“I think it is important to still have activities that you do for yourself and that you don’t have to post all the time, just having your daily regimen,” said ECU sophomore Savannah Mann. “For example, like every time I go to lunch with a friend, I don’t post about it and I think that is where, you just need to have some of your own self. You don’t need everything to be on your Twitter, Instagram; otherwise you lose part of yourself.”

They said the things people post are not always reality.

They also said social media does not encourage them to be their authentic selves.

“On social media, you are putting up a front for other people because you know everybody is looking at what you are doing and trying to see the latest in your life; so you are not going to write about how you just got an F on a test,” Mann said.

They said it can be difficult to keep themselves from comparing to others who post pictures of statuses of accomplishments.

“It is not necessarily a bad thing because you get to see all the great things that people are doing, but it also makes you look at yourself like wow, I should be doing that right now,” ECU junior, Amanda Curran, said.

“I think with the whole Instagram model trend too, it kind of puts an image into people’s heads that you know, you should be skinny and tan and doing all this fun traveling and stuff,” Brown said. “The average person can’t do that.”

The students said that as they have gotten older, they are able to focus less on others and more on their own priorities like starting their careers.

However, they said the worry about the younger generations, like the Pitt County students 9 On Your Side spoke to earlier. The college students wanted to offer the teenagers some encouragement.

“When I was in like eighth grade, ninth-grader, tenth-grader, going on Instagram and seeing those girls that just look perfect — growing up you kind of see through all of that — ‘Oh, that is not entirely authentic,’ and just remember you have a good life too,” Curran said. “You have good things going on and you shouldn’t be so caught up in what other people are doing.”

“I just want to say, it may seem life-changing now, that you did not get enough likes as your friend did on the same picture, but it’s not, and it is really so miniscule compared to the rest of your life and everything that is to come,” Mann said.

The people involved in this series said they think social media is a positive thing overall, but it depends on how you use it.

The bottom line is to use social media for what it was created for: Connecting, not competing.

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