By Amrita Tripathi
While I was initially attempting to do a story on how parenting has changed in this digital age, given the pressure to always be ‘on’, and look good while you’re at it, I essentially got schooled by a couple of teenagers on how all-encompassing the pressure from social is. And let’s not forget, it’s us feeding the beast.
Part I of this piece is here.
Part II: The Insta Generation
“There is no doubt that this added technology doesn’t bring up pressure on teens. Myself being 15 years old, I know that the ‘perfect’ Instagram picture has to have the ‘perfect’ filter and editing. Otherwise, it seems like you aren’t ‘tumblr’, ‘artsy’ or ‘creative’,” Maahi writes in an email reply to my question on the importance of the perfect photo, and this whole phenomenon of always being on/ plugged in.
“The ‘perfect’ picture may seem to only be important in the virtual scene, but it is actually important in both the virtual and real world. Whatever you post, share, like, comment on, defines who you are. It determines who you want to become. Or at least this is what it seems,”she writes.
In another part of Delhi, Radha* (name changed on request) concurs, while talks about her 15 year old sister, nicknaming her Chhoti* for this piece. Chhoti is in Class X and like many of her friends — her older sister laughingly tells me — spends an inordinate amount of time doing “photo shoots” for Instagram.
“She (Chhoti) and her friends come and spend all day putting makeup, they stand right there (where) the light is great. They edit it so the skin is clear, they put filters,” Radha says.
“She’s way more into this than I was, at her age, I used to have braces, bad hair, rough hair, I didn’t use makeup, barely kajal once in a while. I’ve just started using makeup like foundation and all. But they’ve started highlighter, foundation… At 15!”
They sure do grow up fast, I think.
“I’m sure your generation looks at our generation and thinks these kids are so fast — now I understand what you mean. I look at my sister and think I was never like this in Class VIII. I was never so advanced,” Radha says.
Chhoti is a bit shyer and more hesitant to talk about all this. But both sisters give me a slightly pained and embarrassed Nooo when I ask if anyone puts natural photos up anymore. *Unless you’re photogenic, Radha concedes.
Talk about pressure!
There are a couple more difference between the ages. Including when it comes to boys, it turns out. Is there pressure to be in relationships? Well everyone cares about boys, they both agree. “But they’re such weirdos” the younger one says, a little surprised and self-conscious that this elicits laughter.
“They’re also much more straightforward at your age,” her sister prompts. A few sentences of teen-speak translates into a friend who told a best friend’s boyfriend to tell some girl that he wanted to hook up with her. “They’re so creepy,” the girls agree. They didn’t even talk to her directly. It’s “not even about getting to know you”. (“The boys were not so ganda in my batch at your age,” the older one says).
But was there ever pressure to have a boyfriend just for the sake of it?
“Yeah,” they agree. And while now everyone pretty much likes who they’re dating, the 15 year old tells me, back in Class V (!) they didn’t.
But you had to have a boyfriend.
Ah, the good old teenage years. (Between us, I can drip boatloads of sweat just thinking about being 15 going on 16.)
“I feel like life is a jumbled up crossword puzzle that we learn to solve slowly every single day,” fifteen year old Maahi writes.
Which really encapsulates that painful and awkward time frame of puberty and adolescence pretty well — except it’s now compounded by all the shifting sands of our digital era.
So how does parenting keep up with the times? Both mothers I spoke to for this piece agree that things have changed — you can’t just be the authority figure anymore.
“The dynamics of parenting has changed. It has to me more consultative, open to discussion kind of upbringing. I am the mother and you are the child will not work,” says Abha, Maahi’s mother.
If you’re not listening, you have no idea of what’s happening in their universe. “The kids who are getting drunk the most are the ones who have the strictest parents,” says Priya*.“Of course you have to be a parent that your children are scared of, but they have to be friends.”
Meanwhile, Maahi has set up a half-day on weekends that are “gadget-free”, her mother Abha tells me. This is to “encourage “couch conversation” (a term coined by Maahi) to encourage more real communication and sharing.”
Maahi sums up very nicely what many of us grapple with:
“Social media constantly shares with us the ‘newest’ trends and the ‘coolest thing online’. The reality is that we only think these trends are cool because they are shared by social media or are viral. We are only mesmerised by what we see because of what we believe.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. But now where is that button where I ask you to like and share this piece?
(*Some names have been changed on request)