“I only have like 10 streaks going, but a lot of my friends have 30.”
A middle school girl went on to describe a Snapchat “streak” to me in my office this week. By her definition, a streak is when you snapchat each other every day for a given number of days.
“Some people have streaks with 100 days. I know a girl who has a streak for 600 days with someone. Basically, if you don’t have a streak going with someone, it means you don’t like them.”
Here we go again, the pressures of social media. Really? I can’t even call people back, let alone find the time to Snapchat 30 people a day just to make sure they know I like them.
“How long does that take you just to respond to your streaks?” I asked.
“Anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s kind of hard with homework and sports practices. But I sure don’t want my friends to think I’m mad at them. And I can’t stop the streak!”
I went on to ask the contents of said Snapchats. What are the photos they’re sending? What are they saying to each other? That kind of thing. Her response was, “Oh, we’re not saying anything at all. That would be weird. We’re just sending pictures.”
“What pictures are you sending?”
“Well, it has to do with how close you are to a person—at least at my school. With people who aren’t good friends, you just send a part of your face…a side view for example, making a silly face. With your best friends, you send your whole face. But with someone you don’t know very well at all, like a boy, you send a picture of your ponytail or something like that.”
“So you’re sending boys pictures of your ponytail for thirty days?”
I had a hard time knowing what to say back to that one. We could let David respond, but it’s hard to imagine a boy being very interested in thirty days in a row of a braided ponytail. It’s also hard to imagine the simultaneous insecurity that comes with having to send pictures of yourself where you’re only sending portions of your face or head, and the grandiosity that comes with believing others would want to see those things for weeks on end.
This young lady isn’t in my counseling office for narcissism, any more than any 8th grader is. She isn’t socially unaware…in fact, it could be argued that she’s too aware of all of the pressure facing teens today. She’s participating in these streaks partly because they’re fun, but I’m sure that fun bleeds into pressure—as does all social media.
We can’t say it enough…we need to be talking to the kids we love about technology and about social media. We need to ask them questions about how they’re spending their time, and what they’re even hoping to gain out of the time spent. Why do they have streaks going? With whom? What do they mean to each person on the end of the streak?
My final question to her was, “How do you feel like streaks cause you to grow in relationship to someone, if you’re only showing pictures of your hair or half your face?” Her response was, “I guess they don’t. But I don’t know what would happen to the relationships if I didn’t keep them going. I’m afraid I’d lose them.”
We need to also keep talking to our kids about relationships in real time. We need to give them opportunities to connect with each other in person. Snapchat streaks will just be replaced next month by another easy substitute for the risks of real relationship. We can’t change it. Social media is a force to be reckoned with in the lives of teenagers today. But although we can’t change it, we can talk about it, help them understand it, and do our best to safeguard their hearts in the midst of it.
It’s hard to really imagine what it would feel like to be a teenager today. There is so much emphasis on the image—of how they look, the fun they’re having, the amount of friends and likes and favorites, and even how often they talk to their many “followers”. I think, if I were a teenager today, it would be hard to tell the real difference between followers and friends, especially if I was spending an hour a day sending pictures of half of my face back and forth to people I barely knew. Can you imagine?
Let’s keep talking…with them and with each other. Let’s ask them questions and let’s tell them we know that pressure must feel overwhelming sometimes. Fun, but overwhelming. And give them a chance to talk. And, finally, let’s continue to remind the kids we love who they really are and how they can be that person—the courageous, kind, fun-loving, creative boy or girl God has made them to be—in real time and even on social media…ponytails and all.