Social media is where a lot of us spend a lot time. Sometimes minutes, but more likely hours, a day. Whether your platform of choice is Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, much of our daily life seems to be spent checking out what others are doing.

But is what you’re seeing on the social media accounts of your friends or colleagues real?

Many people only post positive images of themselves or share only exciting news that makes those reading the messages go “wow.” And maybe there are those folks out there who lead charmed lives and only have sunshine in their world.

But for many, the posts do not explain the full picture or the realities of life.

The problem this causes is that those reading the enhanced or unrealistic version of someone’s life sees their own life as lacking something. Perhaps they’re lacking good looks, or upward mobility in their work, or an amazing social life. In reality, the reader may not be lacking in any of those areas, but because they are comparing themselves to what they see on Instagram or Facebook, they think they are. It may cause that reader to change their life to be more like those they see on social media.

The issue ultimately is that what we see on many social media accounts is fake news. There, I said it.

If a person only posts the positive, others see their lives as only having positive things happen. But no one lives without a few storms. Young people are particularly challenged by that realization. We have raised a generation of kids that expects participation trophies for everything they’ve done and also looks to their parents to solve their problems. They don’t know how to fail. And isn’t making mistakes how we learn best?

I live in a world of young people. Each fall a new crop of freshmen arrives at universities around the world. And we continue to be amazed at their expectations. Of course, I’m generalizing and exaggerating a bit, but students today expect colleges will hold their hands to ensure everything in their lives (academically, socially, emotionally, etc.) will be smooth sailing.

As a society, we’ve created these expectations both in homes, K–12 schools, and social media. When I speak with recruiters, they continue to be surprised that we in universities cannot seem to wave a magic wand and get students who have had 18 years of conditioning to be reconditioned in four or five years. It just doesn’t work that way.

Parents, here’s how you might help. Talk with your children, especially those on social media, about how what they’re seeing there may not be totally accurate. Help them understand that no one has a perfect life. Let them stumble occasionally and then let them solve their own problems. I’ve always been willing to role play conversations my kids wanted to have with a teacher, Scout leader, or whomever. But I would not intervene on my child’s behalf with any of those people.

Let’s give the current generation a chance to toughen up before heading to college or into the workplace or military. Of course, the military will address this in boot camp, but why should any of those entities have to do so? It’s a “pay me now or pay me later” concept. Someone is going to have to address it at some point. Let’s do it now.

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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