I am a former youth pastor. I spent 5 years of my life leading teenagers from grades 5 through 12. I watched from 2010 – 2015 as social media began to become the lives of our teenagers (and most adults). There’s no denying social media is a core value to most American teenagers in 2018.
Teens desire to be known
Every teenager wants to be known. They want to be known by their friends in a personal way and they want to be known by the world. Whether they are athletes or musicians or a student with an opinion, they want the world to admire them. In 2018, their worth is too often based on likes and retweets.
I remember as a teenager dreaming of being on stage with a guitar in my hands playing to thousands of screaming fans. It was a vision that drew me away from school and caused me to disappear into my room for hours on end to practice and write.
The only thing that has changed in 18 years is the access to methods of attaining some level of fame or attention.
Unintentional Fame and the Stoneman Douglass social media storm
If you’re like me you’ve been watching the students of Stoneman Douglas high school as they’ve tweet-stormed their way to fame. They have used the tragedy they lived through to make an attempt to change the world. They’re doing a pretty good job of it so far.
Have you noticed how fast the Twitter followings of these students have grown? Take Emma González for example. She has gained a few hundred THOUSAND followers on Twitter each day for the last few days. She’s now over ONE MILLION followers. A couple of weeks ago she was a normal teen.
You have no doubt seen David Hogg on just about every TV network multiple times per day since the shooting occurred. He has several hundred thousand Twitter followers now. This week, his 14-year-old sister Lauren joined him on Anderson Cooper 360. She mentioned that she just started really using Twitter this week…she has over 18 thousand followers.
Parenting after Stoneman Douglas
As a parent and former youth pastor, I can’t help but wonder how I would handle the sudden rush of fame for my teenagers. Imagine, God forbid, something terrible happens 10 years from now at my girls’ school and they take a public stand against the violence. Not only will they have to deal with the emotional and psychological impact of the event but also a sudden rush of worldwide fame within hours of the event.
How would I handle their social media persona, TV and radio appearances, and whatever other types of media are popular in 2028?
It honestly terrifies me a bit. I look at the Stoneman Douglas teens and just feel bad for them. Not only have they lived through something no one, especially a child, should ever live through, but they ARE going to have to deal with the psychological stress that social media fame WILL put on them.
They are not only praised and adored…they are being attacked. On top of that, because they have positioned themselves as the leaders of the #NeverAgain movement, they are rightly being questioned as to the merits of the policies and social change they are pushing. Whether you are right or wrong, part of pushing for new policies in our government is answering questions and criticism and selling your idea to lawmakers and the public. No exemption for these teens.
How would you handle the rush of fame and influence for your teen?
I appreciated the fact that at least CNN noted before each interview the days following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas that they had secured parental consent for these minors to be interviewed on camera. That being said, that means that MANY parents consented to their child becoming one of the faces of the survivors of this tragedy.
Would you consent to your teenager being interviewed on national TV? Would you allow them unfettered access to Twitter and other social media? What restrictions would you put in place so that your teen could do the work of mentally and emotionally recovering from a tragedy of this magnitude?
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