How Do We Know What Influence Is Good for Us?

Strength and InfluenceThe Big Question
Artwork by: Haimeng Ge, age 17

In almost every aspect of our lives, we are being influenced.

We scroll through perfect lives on a screen on Instagram or Snapchat. As students, we are taught a selective curriculum that has created the way we think and view history. We are heavily reliant on and influenced by our friends and the opinions of others. Even ads are targeted to guess and influence our interests. Teenagers fill the role of customers, students, and friends, all at once! But amidst all of the popular trends, how do we know the impact of that constant influence? I believe there is no way to know what influence is really “good for you”; instead, it is how you influence others and what you choose to believe that counts.

The realm of social media is a world directed towards the lives of teenagers. Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok, and others are the center of some teenagers' lives. But we are all guilty of spending a little too much time on our phones or worrying about likes. There are endless debates about what is good and what is bad, but every post, tweet, or snap is influencing us. Our generation is so different from the rest because of the power of social media. As a teenage girl specifically, that influence comes from the ideal lives, bodies, and relationships that are in front of me on all platforms. When society gives you its standards, it's almost impossible to resist the influence. The images of size-zero models in bikinis on my “explore” page used to affect how I saw myself in bathing suits or any sort of summer clothes. When shopping, I always had that perfect picture in the back of my mind, fueling a voice that told me I was not enough. I stopped shopping for those clothes with friends or family, if I shopped at all. Some influence from social media is healthy and some is not, but it's hard to untie the knots of good and evil in every aspect of a post. More important is how you use your platform and influence to affect others. I know now that I could have used my small platform to remind the people I love that there is no such thing as a perfect body. What you choose to put out onto the internet counts.

On a different note, we are also impacted by school. Instead of a drive for likes and perfection on the internet, some teenagers are also invested in studies, clubs, and sports. School teaches us how to think. We are influenced by our classmates and by the lessons we sit through every day. Teachers and the curriculum fill our impressionable heads with the knowledge that is deemed important and leave out what is not. In a country that values math and science over the arts, most kids grow up believing that the only careers that are stable and appropriate are sitting at a desk or in a university. Furthermore, the stress and responsibilities of grades also influence how we value our skills and time. I have always viewed my grades as one of the most important things in the world, and the deciding factor for success in life. Though this might sound extreme, it is the result of years of tests, honor roll, and “gifted and talented” programs. The influence of school is less obvious then the impacts of social media, but still teaches us what it looks like to be perfect.

Lastly, I think the greatest impact on our lives as teenagers are the friends we have in high school and the years before. In kindergarten, talking to other kids and making friends was like walking; there was no judgment or drama, just playing made-up games and sports at recess. I met my oldest friend in kindergarten, and she has had the most impact on my life. Our lives bounce off each other in the ways we dress and act. She has been there for every one of my milestones in life. Even in elementary and middle school, I made friends that felt more like a family. In high school, I have made and kept old friends that I would trust with my life. Talking through problems with my friends is how I learned to deal with problems myself. Going shopping together created my sense of style, and studying for all my tests throughout the years helped shape how much I value school. I try my hardest to positively influence my friends in the ways they have influenced me. Most of the impact they have had on my life has been in the small, barely noticeable things. Still, sometimes the most important thing to do is remind them that you are always there. I will always remember the effort that they made to remind me I was loved. My friends influence me in the best way and the most because of that trust.

From the day we are born, we are influenced. School models the perfect student as someone with good grades and attendance. Social media and advertising project the perfect body and life of society. They affect how we view ourselves and our achievements. But these influences can’t only be classified as good or bad. Most of the time, they fall somewhere in between. That is why it is important to influence others in the best way you can. Throughout our lives, our environment, friends, and family hold power and influence over us. We too hold that influence, and it is important to use it in the right way.

Jaden Flach is 15 years old and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Art might be her favorite thing in this world. Painting is her escape from reality, and she hopes you enjoy her paintings as much as she enjoys creating them.

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