You hear a lot of negative things about teens these days, but from where I sit, a lot of these kids are doing all right. But maybe that’s just because of the incredible teens I know.
My younger sister is a teenaged freshman in college, and she and her friends have actively chosen to opt out of many negative cultural trends. Many of them aren’t on social media at all, because they know of its harmful effects on mental health.
I found this out when I mentioned seeing something on Instagram, and my sister said, “Oh, I deleted my Instagram a while ago. I’m actually not on social media at all now.”
When I expressed my shock, she said with a laugh, “It’s not that weird. A lot of my friends deleted theirs too. I think more and more teens are opting out of it.”
I’m so impressed with the maturity and good sense of these teenagers. Major kudos to them! Hopefully their good choices can lead more young people to make the same decision.
But I couldn’t help but be curious. Why did they delete their social media accounts? What was it like to be in high school or college without any social media at all?
So I reached out to five teens who have given up social media, Caroline, Kobe, Victoria, David, and Angela. Here’s what they told me.
Why did you decide to give up social media?
Caroline: I decided to give up (most) social media initially because I noticed how much time it sucked out of my life, even when I tried to use it with moderation and self-control. As I got older, I came to realize that I never had especially good conversations online, even over text messages. When I did have important conversations online, they lacked the meaning and richness of body language, voice inflection, and bodily presence. I decided to channel more of my limited time and energy into in-person conversations or phone calls, and this meant foregoing most forms of social media. I’ve also noticed that social media can bring out in me bad habits of comparison, lust, or vanity, and that’s not who I’m trying to be as a Catholic.
(Caroline also recommended vsco as an alternative to Instagram. vsco is a photo-editing platform that allows photo sharing, but it doesn’t have a like/dislike or comment system, which makes it simpler and focused on the photography. She likes sharing artwork and photography on vsco, and says it is far less addictive than other platforms.)
Kobe: I couldn’t stand the degree to which I allowed my addiction to social media to control me. It made it unnecessarily difficult to fulfill my everyday responsibilities, and pulled me away from those I love. Ultimately, I want to be intentional about my leisure time without becoming a slave to it.
Victoria: At first, I was deleting some social media as a way to keep me focused on my schoolwork and not waste so much time on my phone. However, recently I have deleted all social media as a Lenten resolution and honestly, I think I’m going to keep most of the social media apps deleted because they aren’t necessary.
David: I realized I wasn’t missing out on anything and was only more present in my life around me instead of other people’s lives.
Angela: I decided to give up social media for a few reasons: (a) I had less time to do more productive things because I was constantly wasting time scrolling. (b) I would feel the need to post everything going on and began to realize I was less present to the people around me because of that. (c) I became more focused on how I can make my life look better to others than actually enjoying what I was doing. (Example: I was in Rome with friends last year during Holy Week and I saw a post of someone traveling with her best friend in the Caribbean. My immediate reaction was to feel like my life wasn’t fun enough and I didn’t do anything cool, but I snapped back into reality when I realized I was literally with my best friends in Rome. Even when I was in the midst of this amazing experience, I was focused on what others had that I did not.)
Was it hard to do this as a teen?
Caroline: The decision to forego most social media definitely made me feel ostracized at points in my earlier teenage years, but I don’t regret it at all.
Kobe: Initially, it was extremely hard. Social media was a way of keeping me distracted from my real struggles, and taking that away meant having to actually face them head-on. With time, though, you start to realize that these things were never making you happy to begin with, and it becomes much easier to free yourself of them.
Victoria: Initially I was very nervous to delete all of my social media. I thought that I would lose touch with friends or be seen as weird for not having it. However, once I got past that initial fear, it honestly wasn’t that hard. Once in a while I would get bored and want to scroll a little on TikTok but I felt so much freer without having it on my phone and finding any need to check it constantly.
David: It was hard but totally worth it and only frees me from relationships that aren’t that important to me.
Angela: It was definitely countercultural but it wasn’t extremely hard for me because I was lucky enough to have friends who did the same so I didn’t feel like I was the only one or like I would miss something important. I also think it was actually easier to delete social media apps altogether than to have the apps and try not to use them a lot. Deleting the apps entirely meant I wasn’t really tempted to use them because I didn’t get notifications and the apps were completely out of sight and out of mind.
How has it affected your life, either positively or negatively?
Caroline: Going forward, I think I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, since it’s allowed me to be more awake to the beautiful world around me and the people I can serve.
Kobe: I’ve become a much more disciplined person, and feel like I can be genuinely present when I’m around family and friends in a way I never could before.
Victoria: It has definitely affected my life a lot positively. Without the possibility of scrolling for hours or knowing everyone’s whereabouts 24/7, I was able to grow a lot spiritually. I had more time to read the Bible, go to the chapel, interact with my friends face to face, and focus more on my schoolwork.
David: It has tremendously uplifted my life and has only led to me becoming more of who I am.
Angela: It has definitely affected my life positively. It has allowed me to have more time for things that are more important such as schoolwork, spending time with the people around me, praying, or even just having time to do fun things I enjoy like paint or read. I also find that it makes me less focused on making my life seem “cool” because I can’t see other people’s posts and compare my own life to them. I am more able to live in the moment and appreciate the experiences I have and the people around me.