Published for The Bundle Magazine on April 1, 2019

Social media is fun, but not for middle schoolers

A few weeks ago, I watched the movie “Eighth Grade”, which follows the life of a young girl during the last week of her eighth grade school year. The film is phenomenal and is an incredibly realistic depiction of the feelings of awkwardness and loneliness that often accompany growing up as a young teenager.

However, what stood out most to me when watching the movie was how large a role social media played into the storyline, even for a girl who is around 13 or 14 years old.

Whether it be the lead character’s cringe-worthy YouTube channel or nightly sessions spending hours on Snapchat or Instagram, it’s clear that social media is an almost vital part of her life and an outlet to make her feel included and valued by others.

While I think that including so much social media in the movie was the right choice in order to make the film as realistic as possible for today’s generation, noticing how much social media was present in the lives of middle schoolers was worrisome to me and made me compare the movie to my own upbringing.

When I was in middle school, not a lot of kids had social media, or personal laptops and iPhones to spend time on. Most kids my age began seriously engaging in social media once high school rolled around, so I luckily consider myself as having experienced my childhood without the influence of social media or constantly being involved in technology.

If I didn’t get invited to someone’s birthday party or social event, it was hard enough hearing people talk about it during the next few days at school. I can’t imagine growing up and having to witness the whereabouts of others being constantly streamed on Instagram or Snapchat stories.

Although technology and social media are forced to be a large part of my life now given the fast-paced and internet-driven society we live in, I consider myself and other young adults around my age as at least having some perspective on the topic. While we see social media as entertaining, we are also able to realize that it’s not vital and that life will go on if you don’t check your feed every day or post something on your story every time you hang out with people.

However, I get nervous that this is not the case with the younger and younger generations being exposed to social media at a younger and younger age.

While the idea of social media and documenting my life online will never be fully normal to me, I see that younger generations are being raised and growing up with the presence of social media on a daily basis, and I worry.

I worry that social media and the concept of finding personal value in an online profile is a completely normal topic for them. I worry when I see young kids that are used to posing or holding up products for their parent’s sponsored Instagram pictures. I worry when I see 11 and 12-year-olds posting constant updates about their life online.

Growing up and experiencing the milestones of your childhood and teenage years is difficult enough, and the constant presence of social media just adds to the hardship. Feeling pressure to not only have an active social life but also to showcase this life to others online shouldn’t be something that kids as young as nine or 10 should have to experience.

While my time in eighth grade may have been a bit different than that of the lead character in the movie, I recognize that social media is almost unavoidable now and that it is just a part of reality for younger kids to partake in during their upbringing.

While we may not be able to completely eradicate online platforms for elementary and middle schoolers, my hope is that parents and teachers can do their best to inform young people that social media is fun, but doesn’t in any way give your life more value and meaning—only your relationships with others and the way you treat people can do that.

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Published for The Baylor Lariat on March 20, 2019

Stop judging others’ interests

It’s common for people to define part of themselves by their interests. Whether it be their favorite band or a hobby they really enjoy, many spend time thinking about or sharing with others things that have meaning for them.

It’s also common for people to take pride in the things they love and at times become defensive when their particular interests don’t align with those of others. If someone has a favorite musical artist or book, those must be the best of their kind, and another person’s choices pale in comparison.

Although it has always been normal for people to hold strong opinions about things that they enjoy, it seems to be a somewhat new trend to turn away from “mainstream” interests and instead like things that aren’t as popular or known in society.

A large part of this trend has been the result of the internet, exposing people to an endless amount of things to appreciate or follow. Why would you like songs commonly played on the radio when you’re exposed to a nearly unlimited music on Spotify? Why like a basic food establishment when you could go to a lesser-known trendy spot from Instagram?

Additionally, the sharing of information on the internet causes people to romanticize the trends and lifestyle choices of past generations, making it “cooler” to wear clothes, listen to music or watch movies from decades ranging from the ‘60s to the ‘90s.

With such an endless amount of information available about everything from art to literature to fashion, it just doesn’t seem to cut it when people like what is currently popular or enjoy something that other people also enjoy.

People seem to more and more be forming their identity around having interests that they believe make them unique or different from everyone else. If these interests are genuine, there is obviously nothing wrong with this, and it’s always good to be open about what you are truly passionate about.

However, there’s no need to force yourself to like something solely because it isn’t mainstream or especially to judge people who happen to enjoy things that are popular. It’s okay for someone to prefer Starbucks over the trendy new coffee shop with fancy latte art. It’s also alright if someone continuously watches Friends, even if you personally enjoy branching out with new programs. It’s even fine for someone’s favorite singer to be Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande instead of listening to obscure indie tracks on Spotify.

People should be allowed to have and share their own interests without fear of judgement whether their interests are mainstream or not. Enjoying current music doesn’t make someone “basic” or their interest any less legitimate than someone who appreciates smaller and less popular bands. Judging someone else for what they like doesn’t make you more unique, and people often judge others’ interests to legitimize their own.

So the next time you feel judged for ordering a pumpkin spice latte or avocado toast even if that is what you truly want, know that there is nothing wrong with having popular interests, as things are usually popular for a reason.

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Published for The Bundle Magazine on March 18, 2019

High school- media v reality

During my adolescent years, myself and many others in my grade loved watching TV shows or movies depicting high school. I never had any older siblings, so high school to me was always a mysterious place that I wanted to learn more about. To gain more insight into what high school life was “really like”, I turned to the only source I knew could give me answers— TV and movies.

Growing up, I absolutely adored watching the High School Musical series and movies like A Cinderella Story. Later on, popular TV shows to watch depicting high school life were Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and Glee, and programs like The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf also gained momentum. Even films like Twilight and Mean Girls supposedly depicted people in high school, so to me, that’s what high school was.

I watched movies or TV shows with characters in high school having multiple successful romantic relationships, having plenty of free time to socialize or existing as an underrated social outcast who somehow becomes the most popular girl in school. This obviously gave me incredibly unrealistic expectations about four years that are more realistically filled with confusion and hardships related to growing up.

Although the storylines in many high school movies and TV shows are incredibly unrealistic, what can be even more damaging to kids growing up watching these programs is the fact that many actors hired to play “high schoolers” are often in their mid-twenties— ten years older than the age of an actual high school student.

For example, Pretty Little Liars was a common show to watch for my grade in middle school, as it premiered around 2010 and reached a peak popularity around 2011-2013. The show depicted girls supposedly in high school, but when the show premiered, the four leading actresses were either 24, 22 or 20 years old. For much of the series, the “high schoolers” were actually actresses in their early or mid-twenties dressed by stylists and always wearing a full face of professionally-done makeup.

This trend is still common today, especially apparent in the popular teen show Riverdale. When the show premiered, the characters were supposed to be sophomores in high school, implying that they should be around 15 or 16 years old. In reality, the “high schoolers” on the show range in age from 21 to 28 years old.

Whether it be the unrealistic storylines or the casting of older actors, entertainment depicting high school life can be damaging to the young audience consuming the material. TV shows and movies like Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries, despite being entertaining, create an expectation that almost no one can live up to as a teenager.

Creating awareness that high school isn’t exactly as it appears in our favorite programs is important for teenagers to realize, because if you Google “Riverdale cast as actual sophomores”, the image results are almost laughable. Making a greater effort to cast actors in age-appropriate roles is not only more realistic for a high school storyline, but also won’t mislead kids growing up to idealize four years that may not be as glamorous as a TV show portrays.

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Published for The Baylor Lariat on February 13, 2019

College students don’t have to pull all-nighters

You’ve seen in before: Two students engage in conversation, one asks the other how school is going, and the response most likely goes something along the lines of “drowning in homework,” “I have so many tests this week” or maybe even “I was in Moody until 3 a.m. last night, but had a few cups of coffee so it’s fine.”

This automatic assumption that as college students we need to be studying for hours on end every night and constantly be pulling all-nighters to get work done is harmful but has become engrained in the minds of many students. What began as a humorous stereotype has progressed into an assumption that exchanging mental and physical health for better grades is normal behavior. How exactly did this “college student” stereotype develop and spread? Here are a few possible reasons.

At a time when society seems to value those who work the fastest and the hardest all the time, it can appear to students that the amount of hours put in to studying or doing homework directly affects the grade that they will receive in their class. If they stay at Moody library studying material from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., shouldn’t they do better on an upcoming test than a student who studied an hour and a half? Not necessarily.

According to a 2017 study by Stanford University, a primary reason why some students continually outperform others is not that they study longer, but that they more strategically study and use the resources given to them. In a culture that emphasizes working hard and constantly being productive, the assumption is that studying longer equals working harder equals better grades.

Even if their grades suffer, many students still take pride in the fact that they “worked hard” and “studied a lot,” even if their studying was counterproductive or caused a lack of sleep. To be a normal college student, shouldn’t we all be staying up late every night and always overworking ourselves? In reality, strategizing your time and making the most of the time you study, even if it’s not for hours on end, proves more beneficial.

Another key reason that this assumed “college student” stereotype has spread is due to social media. For example, accounts like Twitter’s @collegeproblem (which has over 274,000 followers) write posts normalizing behaviors like binging Netflix for six hours instead of studying, drinking continuous cups of coffee into the late hours of the night while studying and constantly being overstressed by homework and assignments.

While there are definitely people that naturally engage in these behaviors, I get the feeling that many students who wouldn’t normally feel the need to overwork themselves or procrastinate to extreme levels may do so because it’s the “normal” college thing to do. Tweets like “Every college student knows the most important time of the day is the minutes leading up to 11:59 p.m.” or “A week in college is like: meltdown Monday, too tired Tuesday, why am I here Wednesday, this week needs to end Thursday” perpetuate a stereotype that college students need to be stressed, tired and dreading all of their classes to be normal.

I understand, however, that accounts like this aren’t all bad. Some posts can be funny and help students realize that they’re not alone in their college struggles, but often times accounts geared toward college students on social media encourage them to engage in an unhealthy lifestyle and counterproductive habits to fit in with your peers.

A final reason that this stereotype is continuously viewed as normal is because of college students themselves. When asked about school or classes, I typically hear a positive answer only 5 percent of the time. It’s common for students to be constantly surrounded by peers who complain about school, their workload, their teachers, their lack of sleep, how boring their classes are or how hard their tests are. When engaging in these conversations becomes a frequent occurrence, many may begin to believe that they too should also be stressed, always working and complaining about classes to be a successful student or fit into the “college kid” mold. However, this issue is one that is easily solvable. Next time you are asked about how school is going, you can describe the negative aspects or the stress if that is how you legitimately feel, but don’t feel like you need to complain about all of your homework or how late you stayed up studying for your “test week” if you are actually doing fine or succeeding in your classes. Words matter, and if we get in the habit of continuously talking about stress or the difficulty of college, chances are that we will legitimately feel more stressed and tired in our daily lives.

Now don’t get me wrong — there have definitely been times when I’ve felt incredibly overworked and am stressed about assignments, or when I’ve stayed up a little too late to finish my homework. However, most of the time I’m doing OK and manage to balance schoolwork and activities with a healthy lifestyle. There is nothing abnormal about having feelings of stress and fatigue when getting through the daily grind of classes and meetings, but exaggerating these feelings or subconsciously complaining about them regularly to fit into a “college student” mold can have affects on your own performance and that of your peers.

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Published for The Bundle Magazine on February 11, 2019

For the final rose or for followers?

 The Bachelor/Bachelorette has always been one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I began watching it around fourth or fifth grade and was intrigued not just by the premise, but by how incredibly funny the show was. More than anything, I loved how entertaining the contestants were, and looked forward every year to seeing who the “villain” would be or what crazy new stunts people would pull when stepping out of the limo.

I’ve seen every episode of the franchise since Jillian Harris was the Bachelorette in 2009, all the way up until current Bachelor Colton’s run on the show, and have noticed a major change in the show’s dynamic- while many previous contestants proved to be entertaining personalities achieving only minimal fame after the season’s airing on TV, the contestants of recent seasons seem to use their time on the show as a platform to become “social media influencers.”

The term “influencer” is relatively new and usually refers to anyone who supports themselves financially through online platforms like promoting brands on social media, YouTube, blogging, or creating a podcast. These people typically share about their lives with their online followers while also being paid to support or mention brands that they partner with in their videos or posts.

Many recent Bachelor/Bachelorette contestants appear to be using this newly popular online platform to their advantage, extending their fame beyond the show through teaming up with other past contestants to promote brands and attend brand-sponsored events. It’s rare to find a known past Bachelor contestant who doesn’t completely support themselves through being some type of online influencer.

This “influencer” trend isn’t inherently bad. If I got paid a decent amount of money solely by featuring a product in a picture I posted, I would probably do it. But this trend does make you somewhat question the intentions of everyone who goes on the show. The longer a contestant stays on the show, the more known or popular they will become to viewers, and the more followers they will receive on social media platforms. More followers = more money. If a contestant can stay on the show long enough to make it to the “hometowns” round or to become recruited for the spin-off show Bachelor in Paradise, they will likely be able to support themselves for a while solely off of brand promotions.  

Again, this trend isn’t necessarily bad, but definitely something to note. There’s usually around 25 contestants on each season vying for the heart of the chosen Bachelor/Bachelorette, leaving a very minimal chance of being the one who gets engaged by the season finale. Many contestants must know this going in, and while not having bad intentions in terms of wanting to find love, primarily want to leave the experience with around 30,000 more followers and brand partnerships.

A perfect example of this trend is former contestant Ashley Iaconetti. She appeared as a Bachelor contestant in 2015, staying on the show until week six and gaining attention for her at-times emotional and over-the-top personality. This could have easily been the end of Iaconetti’s television career, but she garnered enough recognition to join the cast of Bachelor in Paradise season two. Even after this second television appearance, Iaconetti returned to TV two more times as a contestant on Bachelor in Paradise season three and Bachelor Winter Games. While Iaconetti ended up getting engaged to former Bachelor in Paradise contestant Jared Haibon, it’s clear that she chose to extend her popularity on the show as much as she could, and the exposure paid off.

Iaconetti currently has one million followers on Instagram, and is involved in two podcasts with former Bachelor contestants. She also uses her social media accounts to promote products like Luna Bars, Fab Fit Fun boxes and Crate and Barrel.

This move towards gaining attention on a Bachelor franchise show to possibly join Bachelor in Paradise and begin a blog/podcast/YouTube channel with social media brand promotions isn’t a negative or positive thing, but it is just a reality for how the show functions now. With more and more contestants following this path, no matter how long they lasted on the show or how memorable they were, the Bachelor/Bachelorette is no longer just a show for normal people to find love, but rather a platform to gain success and a new lifestyle through “influencing” the lives of their followers.

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Published for The Baylor Lariat on September 28, 2018

Stop relationship ridicule

Small talk is a common part of life. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I frequently interact with and get to know the people around me. A recent small talk instance happened on my flight back to Texas after summer break with a lady sitting in the seat next to me — let’s call her Airplane Lady.

Airplane Lady asked me how I was and where I was going, to which I explained I’m a Baylor student studying journalism. What happened next was an all-too-frequent occurrence. Instead of asking how I enjoy the school or what I’m involved in or passionate about there, the next question she asked was, “Any boys in your life?” Upon answering no, her follow-up question was, “Why not?”

Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t have any problems with Airplane Lady. She was genuinely sweet and had good intentions, but her desire to know my relationship status and reasons for not dating, more than my interests or career goals (upon first meeting me) is reminiscent of a common narrative in today’s society in which young people are defined by their romantic interests or dating history.

Relationships don’t define who a person is. Your personality, interests and goals are far more indicative of your character than the last person you dated, and your conversations with others should reflect that. Having a significant other should only build upon who you already are and challenge you to grow to be the best version of yourself.

This narrative is especially common in media and pop culture. Characters are defined by their love interests and celebrities often defined by the famous singers and actresses they are connected to. This was especially obvious in an unfortunate headline I read a few weeks back after the death of rap legend Mac Miller: “Ariana Grande’s ex-boyfriend Mac Miller dies at age 26.”

I understand the draw of highlighting and featuring relationships, as they tell a story and often make for a more interesting plot or a juicier conversation. I personally have no problem answering questions about my relationship history, but the real conflict for me comes when my relationship history or choice to date or not date becomes the defining factor of a conversation about my life, or when I am pressured to explain these personal decisions to people within the first few minutes of a conversation.

This questioning is typically not meant to cause a negative effect and is usually asked with good intentions by unsuspecting relatives or acquaintances. However, I think it’s more important to ask people about what they’ve been passionate about, what they are interested in recently or what they are excited about for the future. By inquiring about these things first, you let who a person is define a conversation rather than their romantic relationship status.

In no instance should you feel pressured to answer “why?” in response to stating your relationship status as single or having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Your personal choice to date, work on yourself, get to know different people or other options is entirely up to you. Questioning these choices can often put people in a difficult or uncomfortable situation depending on the circumstances.

Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but my conversations with friends and peers my age have led me to believe otherwise. From as early as age 8 or 9, I’ve been questioned and pressured about my relationship status or desire to have or not have a boyfriend — often by people I don’t talk to on a regular basis. Growing up, this led to a harmful narrative that I began to truly believe: my relationship status is a reflection of who I am as an individual.

Whether you’re a parent only allowing your child to attend a high school dance with a date, a friend pressuring a classmate to go out with someone or even a relative not realizing that relationship status is the first thing you ask someone about at Thanksgiving, just know that allowing a person’s romantic choices to define a conversation about their character can be harmful and perpetuates a dangerous narrative.

Asking questions about a person’s relationship status in and of itself is alright, as long as it doesn’t in any way pressure someone and isn’t the defining topic of a conversation. Next time you catch yourself wanting to ask someone why they don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend or feeling the need to criticize someone for their relationship, know that seemingly innocent remarks can lead to insecurities, self-doubt or a destructive mindset regarding the role of relationships in one’s life.