I have a teen in my practice who I have known since he was born. When he was around three years old, his parents took him on vacation, where he was exposed to mainstream television for the very first time.
Mom was in her third trimester, and as a reprieve in the late afternoon, she would let him watch cartoons on the hotel television. Mom recounted how, only a day or two into their vacation, her son started reciting slogans and tag lines from the commercials he had viewed.
When he noticed a crack on his dad’s thumb, he commented: “You have to get O’Keefe’s Working Hands Cream - they guarantee relief for hands that crack and split,” or when his mom wanted to go for a pedicure, he would exclaim: “You should get a Ped Egg. It will take care of your feet and make them softer than you ever thought they could be!”
At first, mom was amused. But then, as she thought about it, she realized...In his three years of life, this precocious preschooler had only interacted with trusted adults. And when a trusted grown-up offered a hand cream or a foot scrub, he had no reason to question their intention or authenticity. His parents were shocked at how quickly and unknowingly we can be turned into naïve and incredibly manipulatable consumers. And they endeavored to teach their son his role as a consumer; to question!
One decade later, these parents are questioning giving their son access to the internet (and eventually, social media). But, in ten, short years, the line between our own, trusted reality, and consumerism has blurred so significantly, that it is almost indistinguishable. For teenagers, there is no longer the defined contrast between the episode of Barney and the infomercial.
In a world of compensated influencers masked as friends, sponsored stories, content and posts, can our teenagers distinguish between authentic friendship and camaraderie, and paid media designed to manipulate their perceptions, beliefs, wants, and opinions?
How our teens’ perceptions are being influenced and manipulated isn’t only affecting what they choose to consume. It is affecting how they view themselves.
Next up, we will be focusing on why SOCIAL media is having the greatest impact on adolescent girls than any other form of media, to-date, and what that impact is…Stay tuned!