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The internet has the capability to breed great things, but it also can open doors to actions you might not normally do and words you might not normally say

Navigating social media is tricky, especially for its main population of teenagers.Alyson Johnston

Adults that grew up without social media find it easy to criticize teenagers for using social media so frequently. Their points are valid — the dependency, emotional investment, and huge time commitment are big burdens to bear.

But it's all we know.

Being a part of Generation Z basically requires a prerequisite of having a social media presence. To understand cultural references and topical jokes, you need to be active on the internet.

As a teenager becomes more involved in social media, though, the more it begins to feel like real life. Once nearly all of your communication takes place online, your phone feels like an extension of your hand.

Maybe that's why kids feel as though they can say anything on the internet.

Becoming so comfortable online creates a safe space for teenagers. For some, that's great — finding a place to express yourself in a positive way is healthy. For others, this safe space is abused and manipulated into a place for bullying.

Once the internet becomes like a second home, kids think that they can simply say anything. Snapchats will disappear, posts go to the bottom of a timeline, and comments can be deleted.

However, the internet always remembers the words that are spoken, and teenagers don't remember the potential consequences.

The best way I can describe social media is like going to school with the lights out. You know your friends are there, you know that people are listening to what you say, but you can't see their reactions to what you're saying.

Having the freedom to say whatever is on your mind without any perceived consequences, at least initially, is why bullying is so rampant on social media.

Anything that you say is being said to an Instagram handle or simply a name in your contact book — there's no human connection in the exchange. Since social media is the main medium of communication for many teens, thinking about feelings takes a back seat. The hurtful words only snowball with a mob mentality.

For those in the middle of a flurry of hurtful captions, comments, and retweets, it can feel like human connections are sacrificed for a laugh.

Once again: This is all we know.

It's hard to see the "bigger picture" that older people mention when, in truth, teenagers were raised on these apps — Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are our second home.

Feeling safe on the internet doesn't give someone an excuse to say hurtful things, though. Freedom of speech is one thing, bullying is another.

I've heard a statement from various adults that social media users can learn from: "Don't do or say anything you wouldn't want your parents to know about."

The internet has the capability to breed great things, but it also can open doors to actions you might not normally do and words you might not normally say.

While arguments and jokes can easily get out of hand on the internet, it's important to remember that there's a human on the other side of the screen. Social media isn't the only way to try and connect with people. If that's all we know, then I think it's time to learn something new.

Alyson Johnston is a senior at Wilsonville High School.


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