Social Media vs Real Life: A Teen's Take

The life portrayed in teens' social media posts may not reflect how they're actually feeling.

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What you see on Instagram isn’t always what you get. These days, many teenagers use social media to post images and updates from a life that’s slightly different from the one they actually live. To find out more, I had a conversation with my 14-year-old sister, Margot Thompson, about what she posts and why. 

Choices: What kinds of social media accounts do you have and at what age did you get them?

Margot Thompson: I got a Snapchat this year, and an Instagram and a Pinterest when I was 11. 

C: How do you determine what kinds of things would make a good Snapchat or Instagram?

MT: I think about who I’m Snapchatting to. Like, are they my really close friends? To my close friends, I’ll Snapchat just random little things that are going on throughout my day, but on my Story, where everyone can see, I put things that are interesting and appear to be cool. On Instagram I don’t really post much, so I post to show what big things are going on, like holidays or hanging out with my friends.

C: How accurately would you say your accounts represent what you’re actually doing and how you’re actually feeling?

MT: I’d say 40 percent. Not too accurate. The things that I’m doing are real, but … I’m posting happy things and cool things that I’m doing. But usually my weekends consist of working out and doing my homework. I recently posted a picture of just me on Halloween because I haven’t had great Halloween experiences with friends. I dressed up in my Totoro onesie, and I sat on the couch by the fire with my parents while we handed out candy. I turned it into “Margoween.”

C: Your Instagram posts typically get over 100 likes. Do you feel close to everyone who likes your posts?

MT: I only really feel close to about 10 people, so no. Everybody is caught up on liking pictures, and I have to admit I sometimes fall into that. I think of Instagram as a way to show off. There’s a new trend of people creating a “fInsta,” which is a fake Instagram, so they can post whatever they want and don’t have to make it seem like they’re having a good time.

C: Would you ever post something on social media about having a bad day or something that was upsetting you?

MT: No, I wouldn’t. I don’t think people would be interested in that. I guess I’m posting for my followers, not for myself.

C: Do you think social media affects you negatively or positively overall? Would you consider changing the way you use it because of this?

MT: I think it has a little bit of a positive effect—I can see people who I don’t normally see. Mainly, I think it affects me negatively because I spend too much time on it. It takes too much effort, so I don’t post that much. I wouldn’t delete my account.

Concerned about your teen's social media use? Try these tips for a productive tech talk