The Rockwood Files: Social media versus the awkward phase

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Like many kids, I went through an “awkward stage.” A long one. Some days, I’m not even sure it has ended yet.

It was particularly bad in the fifth and sixth grades, when I decided a colored piece of yarn tied in a loopy bow might make for a good headband. It didn’t. Beyond that, I wore purplish blue glasses on a pale, freckly face. And I was skinny to the point of being gangly.

When I was old enough to start wearing makeup, it was the mid-eighties and we all thought blue eye shadow was a gift from the cosmetic gods. So I layered on tons of it until it looked like I had a blue shimmery dolphin arcing over each eye. Neon socks were “in” and self-tanning products had just hit the market and were turning me and the other pale girls an unfortunate shade of dark orange. Let’s just say the modeling scouts for Seventeen magazine were not knocking down my door.

But that was okay because I wasn’t the first, the last or the only kid to endure an awkward phase. Things got better after a period of trial and error.

What I’m realizing now is that I was one of the lucky ones because I got to struggle through my awkward phase in relative anonymity. Other than a few school pictures and birthday snapshots, the awkward phase went mostly undocumented.

But today’s kids don’t have the luxury of flying under the radar until they start to feel more comfortable in their own skin. And I wonder if, now that we live in a time when everyday moments get captured, uploaded and shared in an endless stream of photos, is there any room left for an awkward phase?

I can’t imagine how tough it must be to get through that self-conscious time of life when you’re surrounded by a sea of unforgiving camera phones. A not-so-flattering photo can be snapped and shared in a matter of minutes. And the person who shares it can post an unkind caption that easily eviscerates an already fragile self-image.

While teenagers have become masters at adding filters to photos, they’re not always so good at filtering the comments they post about their peers, and some of it is downright cruel.

Sometimes girls, in particular, feel like their worth can be measured by the number of positive reactions they get on Instagram. Their self-esteem lives and dies by the “like.”

I recently read an article written by psychologist Dr. Jill Weber for the Huffington Post that talked about the impact social media often has on girls. This line, which points out just how easy it is to play the comparison game, jumped out at me as not only true but scary: “Negatively comparing herself to others on social media sites increases a girl or woman’s sense that she will never be good enough in her real life.”


I’m no psychologist but I am a woman who survived her own awkward stage and has lived long enough to know this one thing for sure: Growing up is hard enough without living your life under a social media microscope.

So far, my own kids have only begun to dip a toe into the social media waters. But I know that in the coming years, they might dive headlong into it, and we, like so many parents, will have to figure out how much is too much. We’ll have to figure out how to let them enjoy the good things about our hyper-connected world without letting them drown in a sea of social media commentary.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.