Teenagers today are inundated with information. Gen Z reportedly spends six to nine hours per day consuming media across an average of five screens, so it’s no surprise that they’re also known as the “internet generation”.
Unfortunately, the quality of online content to which they’re exposed remains questionable. Celebrities and other prominent public figures often have the means to flaunt lavish homes, trips and clothes, and teens are trying to find ways to emulate the extravagance in their own lives.
Shift in How They Shop
New trends in consumer purchasing habits are emerging as a result of social media. “Wardrobing”, the act of buying an outfit, wearing it once and returning it, is gaining popularity, and is a stark reminder that the next generation is being trained to live superficially. You need only click on Instagram’s popular outfit-of-the-day hashtag (#OOTD) to find over 200,000,000 posts from people keen to give their followers fresh fashion content, but it’s reinforcing an unhealthy message that’s influencing impressionable tweens and teens.
One popular Instagrammer wrote very transparently about how she lives a lie online. In a post entitled, “Instagram Illusions: I Don’t Actually Have This Many Clothes”, she cites the pressure of keeping up a certain lifestyle as the reason for her sub-zero bank balance, and declares buying and returning outfits for Instagram a necessary trick of the fashion-blogger trade.
Our children are being brought up to believe that it’s okay – normal, even – to fake it for fame, and some may have no concept of what it means to truly earn a living.
The Real Cost of Online Fame
For anyone who watched internet stars like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber skyrocket to fame, getting rich quickly has never looked easier. The rapid rise of social media has played a major role in this mindset, and teens are now very susceptible to thinking that being an Instagram, YouTube or Snapchat celebrity is a common and viable career choice.
Often labelled “entrepreneurial”, Gen Z is growing up in a world that is intimately familiar with the notion and power of having a personal brand. They are also fed the fantasy that their brand can and should be monetized. “Traditional” careers – ones that offer the stability of a steady paycheque and health benefits – are becoming increasingly unappealing and working 9-5 might seem like an archaic way to earn a living. Further, having a regular job undoubtedly offers a seemingly minimal return on investment, but the investment in keeping up online appearances is greater than most teens realize.
In addition to wayward spending, there are major emotional costs associated with internet fame. It has been documented heavily that the pressure of gaining clout through likes, comments and shares can wreak havoc on a teenager’s mental health, as it demands unhealthy levels of self-promotion and compulsive comparisons with others. Consequently, parents need to work that much harder to help their children balance the challenges of having an online presence with the expectations of the real world, while also accepting that social media is a normal part of growing up today.
Holidays As a Teaching Moment
The spirit of the holiday season makes it an ideal time for parents to explore the true meaning of happiness with their kids. At a time of year when the gap between the haves and the have nots is underscored, parents can help their teenagers think more critically about what it means to live purposefully and should guide them towards redefining their own success.
Parents can leverage the season’s message of giving to teach their kids about non-monetary wealth. When teens have a firm grasp of this concept, they’ll be better equipped to navigate the noise online, to become more conscientious adults, and to appreciate a modest and meaningful life.