Awkward phases are a necessary part of growing up

Social media is causing tweens to skip their ‘awkward phase,’ and this prevents them from discovering themselves.

(Audrey Schreck / Daily Trojan)

A fundamental time that molds our existence is the “awkward phase.” It is a sliver of time that includes bumbling into Justice and choosing the most unbecoming of outfits, exploring new interests and trading those in for even newer interests, and, at the crux of it all, finding ourselves. 

This in-between moment in our lives that doesn’t quite yet realize the effervescence of teenagehood nor retain the naivete of childhood is when we begin gaining more agency and have stronger opinions. It is when we can stand proudly on our own feet and proclaim our undeniable love for what we are truly passionate about. We become less sponges of the world around us and more opinionated. It is a critical time period in our development.

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While reminiscing about my middle school choices leaves a sour taste in my mouth (I should have never mixed chevron print with polka dots), I can ascertain that the person I am today is shaped by the shadow of my former ungainly 13-year-old self. But where did this stage of life go among youth today? 

This so-called awkward stage is being replaced by the impossible need for tweens to conform to standards emphasized by social media. Gone are the days of trying out a smoky eye only for it to look like a black eye and mixing and matching both styles and personas. Instead, middle schoolers’ susceptibility to social media has made them vulnerable to maturing early, imbibing ideas they see online instead of taking the time to discover themselves. 

Social media platforms such as TikTok have a mix of users. Older users create content and younger users watch it. When watching older influencers, the quest to be more like them ignites a desire to grow older even faster.  They have to live up to an ideal that they can never meet because they are simply not old enough.

Clear skin, a “perfect” body and more mature activities are not achievable for middle schoolers whose worlds are turning because of puberty. What was once a period of self discovery is twisting itself into a race to grow up. 

Growing pains seem to be a foreign concept, removed from the reality of today to exist in our memories. From clothes to makeup, children are engaging with and consuming content that is more mature. This exposure causes them to conform to standards they see online and is, inevitably, harmful. 

“The basic stages of children’s development aren’t changing,” said Shelly Pansik, vice president and director of the Center for Children and Technology in an interview with BBC. Instead, she said “the external world is constantly shifting.” 

To adapt to this shift, children are changing their behavior to emulate an ideal. But they are not developed for this yet — and we have yet to see its long-term effects. How will these children, once grown, understand the world when they barely understand themselves? We are probably the last group of tweens that had an awkward but necessary phase of growth and exploring who we are.  

This is not to say that the teal or the oversaturated, neon tank tops that defined 2014 need to be brought back, but that children should be allowed to be, well, children. A space should remain for them to do this without any external input and lines need to be drawn, holding them back from the tendrils of adulthood so they can fully discover who they are.

Maybe, as we grow older, we can look back at those middle school photos with less distaste. After all, it is the smelly, mood-swing-ridden version of us we have to thank for the people we have become today. 

Amrita Vora is a sophomore writing about the impact of social media on adolescents and college students. Her column, “Chronically Online,” runs every other Monday.

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