How Does Social Media Affect Personal Identity In Millennials?
The vast majority of millennials enjoy some sort of social media presence, be it Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, or one of many others. Social media is fundamentally a place of connection, allowing young adults instant access to the lives of friends and family around the world. But it is also a place of deception. For good or bad, social media is affecting identity and how people engage with the world. In our wilderness adventure therapy program we often see the impact that social media has on a young person.
Have you ever caught yourself impulsively checking the number of ‘likes’ on your most recent Instgram post? How about the number of views on your latest TikTok? Have you checked more often than you are willing to admit? Most of us have.
It is nice to feel the instant validation that social media provides. It is affirming to see that little Instagram heart that indicates someone enjoyed a snippet of your life enough to make a small, public announcement of it. Maybe we even feel proud that our life is something that other people might envy.
But, how much do we exaggerate who we are in order to impress our friends in the cybersphere? Are we curating our “In Real Life” (IRL) experience to earn an extra “like” online? Is that even a bad thing? While these questions undoubtedly involve all of us, there is no population better versed in this complex world than millennials.
The majority of millennials and Gen Z young adults, especially those on the younger side, grew up in this world of “likes”, “tweets”, “snaps”, and “chats.” This means that every developmental moment through adolescence and adulthood has been seen through a cyber-lense and broadcast to a wide, unseen world. While people over thirty developed their core identity prior to the dawn of social media, millennials developed their identity within social media, and Gen Z has developed their identity through social media from a young age. As a result, “likes” shaped the identity of an entire generation.
For millennials and Gen Z, privacy is a setting on social apps, not a concept that necessarily applies to our personal lives. Social media has created a world in which external influences have a disproportionate effect on individual identity formation. In other words, millennials may choose a certain identity because it receives the most “likes” online, even if it is slightly at odds with who they might be otherwise. They derive self-worth and satisfaction not from the activity or identity itself but from how it is received. This has a destabilizing effect on millennials and Gen Z identity because it can encourage young adults to ignore who they really are.
Social media encourages users to romanticize their own lives. The online avatar in turn has an effect on the person behind it, as they try to live up to the idealized self that they created and compete with other people’s idealized selves. This is especially true for adolescents who are already struggling to maintain a self-image equal to that in Hollywood and advertisements. Social media, while affirming, can make young adults feel inadequate. And at its worst, it is a place of rampant bullying. Millennials have forgotten that flaws are what make humans unique.
Technology And Healthy Identity Development
But the internet is here to stay. The answer is not to try to block it out, but to recognize the problems and consciously work to counteract them. Healthy identity development will have to also take place off-line, where a young adult can internally analyze their own sense of self. This does not mean forgoing the internet forever. It simply means finding intentional space to do this self-work. It may be more difficult for millennials to develop an internally motivated sense of personal identity, but it is still possible. And it is vital to find space for that exploration in order to be a fully functioning, confident adult.
Technology allows today’s young adults more opportunities than ever and has created a truly globalized society. It is an amazing tool for academic and professional success, and millennials are masters of it. The solution is not to get rid of technology but to learn to manage interactions with it. Balance and intention are key.
The bottom line is that social media is fun and affirming, but it shouldn’t be the source of self-worth and happiness. In large part, self-worth comes from an understanding and acceptance of who you are, flaws and all. No one should have more influence over your identity than you.
The Selfie And Snap Are Methods Millennials And Gen Z Use To Communicate
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a selfie is worth ten thousand, especially to a young adult. This generation doesn’t want to communicate over a phone call, email, or even text–they prefer a selfie with a caption and an emoji, preferably sent via Snapchat. There’s a lot to be said for the creative filters, stickers, and emojis that can be added to a selfie, making these a more inventive way to communicate.
But often, social media, including Snapchat and TikTok, give our brains such a rush of feel-good hormones that our brains become dependent on the dopamine hit. In fact, some believe that our dependence on our phones has become a form of comfort that we used to find in our IRL relationships. In many ways, curating a perfect online presence with selfies and social media profiles has become our primary way of not only finding our identities but also our primary way to connect with others. And while there’s nothing inherently bad or wrong with maintaining a presence on social media, the amount of our energy and efforts that are going towards our online life rather than in-person relationships is catastrophic for our emotional and mental health.
Finding a balance in our online lives while prioritizing our real-life relationships can be tricky, in part because real-life relationships aren’t as cut and dry as a selfie. It’s understandable that a generation raised to curate online persona would shy away from the complexities of in-person relationships, but, thankfully, the skill of interpersonal relationships can be learned at any age.
Are Selfies And Snaps Narcissistic?
As with most issues facing young people, selfies and social media aren’t completely good or completely bad, but instead are simply tools that, when used from a place of well-being, can be uplifting or, when used from a place of poor self-worth, can cause harm. That being said, there is new research that shows an increase in narcissism and a decrease in empathy in recent years. We don’t have clear answers as to why this is happening, but some researchers believe that a combination of an increase in digital and social media use, a decrease in community, and severely reduced time for free play, could all be contributing factors.
While it’s true that selfies can be a way of showing off your best features, they can also be a fun and creative way to express yourself. One study showed that when young adults take selfies, their motivations for doing so aren’t so cut and dry. About 30% of the reasons young adults gave for taking selfies were narcissistic reasons like, “I think I am attractive and I have no problem sharing that.” But, other reasons like, “I want to share my experiences with my friends,” as well as other non-narcissistic reasons make up about 55% of the reasons young people take selfies. The remaining 15% is for self-esteem boosting reasons, “so I can feel better about myself.”
The next time you reach for your phone to take a selfie, and especially if you are planning to post it on social media, consider your motivation–are you looking for the rush of excitement that comes from a “like” or are you simply stretching your creative muscles? Are you looking for a connection or are you trying to make someone else feel jealous or insecure? Are you documenting a memory or curating an online identity that doesn’t match your lived experience? When we pause before we post, we can make sure that our reasons for taking and posting selfies are from a place of wanting connection and not narcissism.
A Healthy Identity Is Possible For Millenials
Finding and establishing our identities is the crucial work of young adulthood; to some degree, a little self-centeredness comes with the territory. However, in a world that gives our brains instant gratification of likes and comments designed for the carefully curated identity we show online, it makes sense that an entire generation of people has struggled to establish an identity in the real world.
Fortunately, young people are able to learn new ways to exist in the world outside the internet, but they need to be guided. That guidance is what Pure Life Adventure offers–a chance for young adults to learn the skills they need to establish their identities without the pressures of social media and selfies. Young adults are capable of achieving independence and self-worth, they just need the right tools.
Contact us today to find out how we can help you reach their potential and experience the confidence that comes from learning new skills and making in-person connections.
You are part of the first generation of people to live in a world that straddles the reality of both the digital world and the physical world, which is both exciting and challenging. It makes sense that you might be struggling to find your identity as a pioneer in this new world that expects you to exist in both realities. But you aren’t alone, and there is help. You can learn how to establish your identity in the real world while balancing your attention spent on your digital footprint. Pure Life Adventure can help you like we’ve helped other young adults establish their identity. You don’t have to figure this out alone, and the first step in your path to well-being is contacting us today.