The Ghost of Adolescence

How Social Media Has Shaped Childhood in Recent Years


Photo curtesy of Artem Kniaz on Unsplash

Flashback to a few years ago where pre-teens and teenagers would have virtually nothing in common. Now it’s becoming even harder to tell the difference. The answer for why this shift is occurring is more complicated than many realize.

Isaiah Prophet, Reporter

If you grew up in the early 2000s, you might remember going to Toys“R”Us, watching Nickelodeon, and trading silly bands at recess. Sometimes, I reminisce and think about the times  my mom would drive me to the park in our 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee while she blasted ‘Crazy in Love’. A simpler time, when all I could think about was when I was going to get to go outside and play four-square with my friends. Flash forward to 2021 and my childhood joys have been replaced with college applications, and mindless scrolling on Tik-Tok. Jokes aside, it’s crazy to think about how much I’ve grown up since my childhood and even crazier to see twelve year olds already finished with theirs.

Regardless of how awkward it can be, childhood is still an important part of anyone’s life. It gives adolescents the opportunity to grow and branch out without many of the consequences that come with adulthood. But, I’ve noticed that the duration of childhood has been shrinking rapidly, especially among younger kids aged twelve to fifteen. The easy culprit to blame is multimedia and how accessible mature content is to view nowadays. Phones, tablets and technology get put on blast regularly for the negative effects they can have on a growing brain. However, I feel a more specific cause is due to the lack of filter between what content is considered as “mature.” For the first time in history, people from all age groups are all interacting on the same media platforms; but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I’ll never forget when I visited my younger sister for Christmas and saw my thirteen year old sister walk down the stairs. She had a full face of makeup on, contour, concealer, lashes, bronzer and all. At first glance, I was a little surprised. I wasn’t sure what prompted the change in my sister, who just one year prior was playing hopscotch with me in the backyard. I asked her about her new look and, sure enough, she said she got the inspiration from a popular influencer that we both mutually followed. It still was a bit odd, but then I remembered when I was a pre-teen and the things that I had seen or tried to experience despite still being considered “too young”.

While I do remember being a kid and what that feeling of complete innocence felt like, I also had discovered and was exposed to content that wasn’t exactly geared towards or considered appropriate for my age group on numerous occasions. But it didn’t scar me, it made me ask questions and experiment with the new information in front of me. More importantly, those experiences helped me get a more accurate picture of how the world works. And that’s exactly what my sister was doing when she was experimenting with makeup. It just so happens that we live in an age where information and content are easier to grasp onto than ever. While I do agree that children and teenagers shouldn’t be engaging in all of the same activities, I don’t agree with censorship either; I actually believe it could be even more harmful to not understand or be exposed to that material. 

Younger generations, myself included, get exposed to new content constantly, whether we search it up or it just ends up on our plates. Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube are just some examples of social media platforms that both pre-teens and teenagers have a strong presence on. Both age groups interact and come across the same types of material, liking the same videos and following the same content creators. So it’s no surprise that pre-teens have begun to “copy” or “mimic” the aesthetics that teenagers have popularized. It’s just another side effect of living in a media-driven world, and it should be embraced so we can continue spreading knowledge and having conversations with one another.