蘑菇影院

In their own words: What young people wish they鈥檇 known about social media

The apps and social networks that are consuming so much of young people鈥檚 attention were initially designed for adults, not children. With that in mind, we asked teens and young adults to reflect on what they wish they had known as kids about social media.

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It鈥檚 dangerous. It鈥檚 addictive. Get off your phone.

Kids constantly hear about the downsides of social media from the adults in their lives, often in the form of dire warnings and commands. But these adults did not grow up with social media themselves.

They didn鈥檛 get a phone handed to them as toddlers, just to keep them quiet in a restaurant. They didn鈥檛 join TikTok鈥檚 predecessor Musica.ly and do silly dances before they even learned to read. They didn鈥檛 have their schools shut down in a global pandemic, their connections to friends and peers relegated to phone and computer screens.

Kids coming of age with social media are forging ahead in a whole new world. And now that they are getting older, they have some advice for their younger peers.

Here鈥檚 what they wish they knew when they first got online.

Bao Le, 18, sits for a photo on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. 蘑菇影院 spoke with teenagers and young adults about their experiences on social media and what they wish they had known when they first got online. (蘑菇影院 Photo/George Walker IV)

Bao Le, 18, sits for a photo on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (蘑菇影院 Photo/George Walker IV)

You don鈥檛 have to share everything

鈥淚t鈥檚 so easy to look at your friends鈥 stories and feel this feeling of FOMO, of missing out and comparing yourself, like: 鈥極h, my friend just got a new car.鈥 It鈥檚 like this overwhelming sense of comparison. But the things that people post on social media, it鈥檚 just the highlight reel, like the 1% of their life that they want to showcase to other people.鈥

BAO LE, 18, a freshman at Vanderbilt University

Doreen Malata, 22, a senior at University of Maryland, poses for a photo on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in College Park, Md. 蘑菇影院 spoke with teenagers and young adults about their experiences on social media and what they wish they had known when they first got online. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Almaz Abedje)

Doreen Malata, 22, a senior at University of Maryland, poses for a photo on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in College Park, Md. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Almaz Abedje)

Don鈥檛 take it too seriously

This article is part of 蘑菇影院鈥檚 Be Well coverage, focusing on wellness, fitness, diet and mental health. Read more Be Well.

鈥淢y main point of advice would be not to take it too seriously. Be yourself. I feel like what I was exposed to as a 12-year-old was much more limited than what is accessible to 12鈥搚ear-olds nowadays. Younger kids want to be who they idolize. And when the TikTok stars or the social media stars are 20, 18, 16, they鈥檙e going to want to be like them. You鈥檙e getting younger kids that are now obsessing over products and brands, and it鈥檚 just getting really hard to be young. And it shouldn鈥檛 be really hard to be young. You should be enjoying childhood. And we shouldn鈥檛 be rushing to grow up. It鈥檚 OK to be 12. It鈥檚 OK to be young. It鈥檚 OK to enjoy childhood.鈥

DOREEN MALATA, 22, a senior at the University of Maryland

Sienna Keene, 17, poses for photos in Orinda, Calif., Monday, April 29, 2024. 蘑菇影院 spoke with teenagers and young adults about their experiences on social media and what they wish they had known when they first got online. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Sienna Keene, 17, poses for photos in Orinda, Calif., Monday, April 29, 2024. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Jeff Chiu)

How addictive it is

鈥淚t seems like it would be really easy to just put your phone down and stop scrolling. But it is not. If there was advice that I could give to my younger self, it would be to tell my parents to set up time limits for me 鈥 even though I would have never said that when I was starting social media. Also, I personally would not let my kid have TikTok. I would try to resist it as long as I could. It鈥檚 so addictive.鈥

SIENNA KEENE, 17, a high school senior in Orinda, California

Ava Havidic, 18, poses outside her high school, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Tamarac, Fla. 蘑菇影院 spoke with teenagers and young adults about their experiences on social media and what they wish they had known when they first got online. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Ava Havidic, 18, poses outside her high school, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Tamarac, Fla. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Take a social media detox

鈥淲hen you first get these apps, it hits you 鈥 like, BOOM, there is so much content. Styles, fashion models. It really impacts you heavily when you first get it, this feeling of: 鈥楬ow do they do it? How do they look like this? How do they get clothes like that?鈥 When you鈥檙e new to social media, these trends can overtake you. I started to use screentime (monitoring) on my phone and limit the amount of time I am on social media. I鈥檝e been taking phone detoxes. On weekends, I鈥檒l take a social media detox for 10 hours or the majority of the day. I鈥檒l hang out with my family, ride my bike. I only have notifications for my messages and workspaces. I don鈥檛 have any notifications on for social media apps.鈥

AVA HAVIDIC, 18, a high school senior in Broward County, Florida

Lea Nepomuceno, 18, a freshman at George Washington University, poses on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Washington, D.C. 蘑菇影院 spoke with teenagers and young adults about their experiences on social media and what they wish they had known when they first got online. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Almaz Abedje)

Lea Nepomuceno, 18, a freshman at George Washington University, poses on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Almaz Abedje)

You are the one in control

鈥淥ften I hear the term 鈥渟ocial media user,鈥 but I felt like I was being used by social media. I had this routine of scrolling mindlessly through TikTok, just scrolling and scrolling and comparing myself to other people. It ultimately really affected my body image, my perception of what was considered beautiful or accepted into society. But the only thing I was getting out of social media was feeling fatigued, or I would feel sad.

You can use social media to amplify your passions, but in order to do that you need to do a lot of work outside of social media, to discover who you are as a person, what matters to you and what contributions you can make to the world.鈥

LEA NEPOMUCENO, 18, a freshman at George Washington University

Mikael Makonnen, 18, a freshman at American University, poses for a photo in Washington, D.C, on Saturday, March 2, 2024, 蘑菇影院 spoke with teenagers and young adults about their experiences on social media and what they wish they had known when they first got online. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Almaz Abedje)

Mikael Makonnen, 18, a freshman at American University, poses for a photo in Washington, D.C, on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Almaz Abedje)

It鈥檚 a waste of time

鈥淚 would say just don鈥檛 use it. It鈥檚 kind of a waste of time. You鈥檙e just having conversations about pointless things, random pop culture stuff. It just sucks your time. You鈥檙e not really getting anything out of it, just short-term satisfaction. It鈥檚 kind of meaningless. I know this is kind of outlandish, but I feel like there should be some sort of age limit because I don鈥檛 think children should be on the internet.鈥

MIKAEL MAKONNEN, 18, a freshman at American University

Nour Mahmoud, 21, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, is shown on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Richmond, Va. 蘑菇影院 spoke with teenagers and young adults about their experiences on social media and what they wish they had known when they first got online. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Almaz Abedje)

Nour Mahmoud, 21, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, is shown on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Richmond, Va. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Almaz Abedje)

A lot of it is not real

鈥淎 lot of people make their life artificial so that they鈥檙e perceived in a certain way. And I think going into social media, I wish I knew it is a tool to learn from. There鈥檚 so much information, and you鈥檙e able to learn so much about different things. ... I wish people had that outlook rather than the whole idea of other people viewing you and having to be seen a certain way.鈥

NOUR MAHMOUD, 21, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University

Madeleine Maestre, 18, a freshman at Santa Clara University, poses for photos in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, May 3, 2024. 蘑菇影院 spoke with teenagers and young adults about their experiences on social media and what they wish they had known when they first got online. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Madeleine Maestre, 18, a freshman at Santa Clara University, poses for photos in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, May 3, 2024. (蘑菇影院 Photo/Jeff Chiu)

It鈥檚 OK to put up boundaries and block someone

鈥淵ou can鈥檛 scroll on TikTok or look through Instagram without seeing supermodels who have edited their photos and are promoting unrealistic beauty standards. I don鈥檛 want to see these girls who pretend to be fitness influencers but are just promoting an eating disorder like 鈥渂ody checking鈥 on my feed. That is one thing I wish I knew when I started: that it is OK to not want to look at that or want to consume it. It鈥檚 OK to protect yourself and your own body image. Another thing I wish I knew is that not everyone on social media is your friend. When you are young and impressionable and people are reaching out to you, just know that not everyone is as friendly as you think they are.鈥

MADELEINE MAESTRE, 18, a freshman at Santa Clara University

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Interviews by Almaz Abedje, Jocelyn Gecker and Barbara Ortutay