Yolo Vs. Lay Low: How social media could create conflicts in perceptions of high school

“Being teenagers,” my history teacher told a room full of students staring eagerly at the clock, waiting for the lunch bell to ring. “You see things strictly in terms of black or white,” he continued, with dramatic hand gestures. “What you don’t yet understand is that there’s a lot of gray in between.” He scarcely got the last word out before the bell rang and the students all rushed to lunch, but I was still considering his last sentence.

Being a 15 year old in the modern age, I also consider myself a bit of a social media addict, but not any more so than my peers. True, sometimes it inhibits productivity, but I also find it very enlightening. In many of my misadventures on social media, I’ve encountered several retweets/reblogs/shares from my friends about high school (typically Tumblr posts, or screenshots of notes on an iPhone that have gone viral). I’ve noticed that there is little room for gray in these blurbs. In fact, they’re very black and white. The authors either adore high school, concluding with “Don’t take high school for granted,” or they take a cynical approach, saying that high school is simply a haven of panic attacks and stress.

Neither of these are particularly noteworthy, and both are practically generational. But what’s remarkable is that they’re being reposted by the same person. One of my classmate’s Twitter accounts can contain two opposing views of high school, all of which the owner supposedly agrees with. So while perhaps my history teacher was right, we do see things in black and white, we see things in both black and white simultaneously. But could that be because we are the gray?

Teens are conflicted beings: a muddled result of the sources that influence them, from their parents to the media. They are clumsily trying to reconcile and mimic the totally polar opposites they see their role models preach. It seems like teens in the past managed this conundrum by having very decisive opinions on various entities, but today’s teens have a different approach: To embrace both sides of the issue in question.

The 1945 written Teenage Bill of Rights clearly states that teens have, “the right to question ideas.” The document elaborates on the subsection: “Ideas and attitudes are not necessarily right just because they come from an adult. The ‘teen-ager does not consider any question closed to him. He has a right to question and to get an answer, and to argue things out.” Indeed, the teenager has a right to these things, and if teen rebellion is any indicator, exercises it often. But things get more interesting if you pause to consider if this is also applicable to internal conflicts: The vagueness of this statement leaves us to assume that teens also have the right to argue within themselves.

It’s no secret that the teenage years can be confusing, full of identity crises and character development. But it seems like, for the most part, (as mentioned before) in the past, teens’ views on things, particularly high school, were pretty clear. Not necessarily synonymous, but clear. Teacher’s pets enjoyed school, rebels hated it, pretty cut-and-dry. But more and more, it seems like modern kids are both teacher’s pets and rebels. They’re conflicted to the point where it almost becomes duplicitous.

But it would be insensitive of me to blame my peers solely, and not even mention the culpability of their influences, especially since teens are most influenced by social media. Social media is, in essence, a continuous stream of contradictions. I don’t think that the people teens idolize are guilty, so much as the platform they use to find role models is. Twitter newbies (which presumably many teens are) follow 3 times as many people as they are followed by. Even though the average teen only has about 79 Twitter followers, and in the era of the “Instafamous,” triple that doesn’t sound like a lot, imagine 237 people standing on soapboxes all shouting different ideas every single second. It’d be pretty hard to figure out who you agree with, wouldn’t you say?  With so much information pouring into their timelines, it’s no wonder teens can’t decipher how they feel.

But there could be advantages to social media’s influence. Though it may be more difficult to form an opinion on the onslaught of information — or for that matter, to find a point of view that fits with your own train of thought — maybe this means that when teens finally find their voice, it’ll be even stronger. And in the case of high school, this’ll probably mean a lot of amazing graduation speeches.

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