Are You A Duck?
**This blog post was written by our SGS Ambassador, Abbie Mueller (and only slightly edited by our writing crew).**
It is a quiet, pretty fall day, and there is a beautiful duck with a bright green head and striped neck quietly gliding across the water. He is so graceful that the surface of the pond barely ripples as he floats along, peaceful with his head held high. Underneath the water though is his secret. His yellow webbed feet are paddling as hard as he possibly can! He struggles to move himself forward and stay afloat, all of his work below the surface hidden from people who admire his silent, perfect, morning swim.
In my post “If You Aren’t ‘You’ Online, Who Are You?” about how important it is to realize that the world of social media is not what it always seems to tweens and teens. Even though we know in our head that a lot of the Instagram feeds are not “real life,” it’s difficult to prevent the “low moments” that come from viewing the world as other people present it--all the perfect bodies, perfect friends, perfect hair and makeup, perfect Saturday nights, and perfect “best day ever” all the time. Pressure from keeping up with social culture, academic deadlines, perfectionism, and procrastination, without looking like it is taking too much effort, causes a huge amount of stress. Research shows that unrealistic standards associated with self-image are persisting even when teens move on to college, and here, the risks may even be higher.
Suicide rates in high-performing college students are scary. In the 2009-2010 school year, Cornell University reported 6 student suicides; in 2015, Penn State University reported 6 and Tulane University reported 4. College counselors report that over half of the students they work with have psychological problems including anxiety and depression. One Penn State student who committed suicide in 2014 posted pictures to her social media feed of perfect twinkling lights, laughing at a party, and being outside in the sunshine. Behind the scenes, she admitted to her own sister that she felt her social life wasn’t as good as her friends from high school despite being popular and athletic in college. An hour after posting the picture of holiday lights, that student jumped off the roof of a parking garage. After this terrible tragedy and other situations like this, researchers at Penn State and at Stanford University found that the culture of having to look perfect while being anxious, depressed, and frantically trying to keep up with expectations was so well-known around campus that students had a name for it. At Penn State, they called it “Penn Face.” At Stanford, they called it “Stanford Duck Syndrome.” One student described the expectation like this: “no one wants to be the person who is struggling, while everyone else is doing great and looking perfect without as much effort.” Just like the duck, the stressed-out student is frantically paddling behind the scenes to keep up with appearances both in school and on social media.
We all know that life is full of hard work. Just because the pictures are smiling doesn't mean that everything is perfect behind the scenes or under the water. A duck makes swimming across the water look so easy and beautiful, but if you look under the surface, its webbed feet are paddling and struggling to keep it afloat. There are lots of times I am a duck. Maybe I am not feeling great about how my clothes are fitting one day, maybe I got in a fight with my mom, or maybe I got in trouble for not doing the dishes. I still go to school and get through my day and act like everything is fine, or I still go to dance class or rehearsal and smile. I may have had to work 5 hours to understand the homework that took a friend of mine only 45 minutes to do, so I may not admit that it took me that long. It would be easier to tell everyone that I don’t have any breakouts that week because I have effortlessly clear pores--but the truth is that I have to take medicine to keep down the flare-ups and have to use a weird-smelling face wash that is not cute at ALL. In these moments I have to choose whether to be real, or whether I paddle paddle paddle.
The truth is that everyone has duck days and it's okay. You don’t have to walk around telling everyone all of your private business or post pictures of the face you make when you get a bad grade. You don’t have to put yourself out there looking perfect 24/7 because we all know that sometimes it is easier to put on a happy face or try to look chill, and that is okay. You do, however, have to recognize those duck days and acknowledge them to yourself when you feel the comparison creep in. I think that as long as you aren't so worried about looking like you are perfectly gliding that it gets in the way of dealing with whatever is under the water, it’s okay to quack and paddle once in a while. Just make sure that you get out and give your flippers a rest sometimes.
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Smart Girl Society, Inc., is an Omaha-based nonprofit working to empower smart choices in a digital world. We envision a society where: teens are empowered to be safe, authentic, and private on social media, parents are intentionally engaged with their children and the devices and apps given to them, educators are more equipped to manage iGen students in a constantly changing digital environment. We aim to reduce digital-based anxiety, prevent peer and predator exploitation, and ensure our communities remain safe. Through our 100 schools campaign, we are setting out to impact 48,000 students, parents, and educators in the greater Omaha area. We also empower students to focus on their personal brand development, leadership, educational opportunities, and healthy social skills. Interested in learning more? Check us out!