Today I rediscovered my inner child on a work trip to Thorpe Park. After an absence of ten years (and the rest) I wasn’t sure it would elicit quite the same thrill but I’m pleased to report it was just as good – if not better – than when I went all those years ago. It was funny experiencing it through the eyes of an adult chaperone rather than a young person though. Our group was a diverse but lovely bunch and I couldn’t help but pick out the ones that reminded me of my group of friends when I was that age (needless to say these were, generally speaking, the ones at the gobbier end of the spectrum), and observe the way in which they interacted with the quieter members of the group.
There were moments when I felt the ‘adults’ (I will never get used to referring to myself as such) were more excited about the rides than the young people, and none more so than when me and my colleague ran off to buy fast track tickets for two of the rollercoasters – Saw and Colossus – and the two boys we were with at the time just ambled off to the arcade games, completely disinterested. In the end though there was something for everyone, and I think it’s safe to say the day was enjoyed by all, whether or not they partook in the rides. It was just lovely to see all of the young people interacting and enjoying the experience together – amazing when you consider these are kids who were deemed at risk of dropping out of school and becoming disengaged before they took part in the Teens and Toddlers programme in year 9 or 10 of secondary school. It just goes to show that encouraging young people to believe in themselves and develop to their full potential really does work.
Today I’ve been trying to remember the world before social media took hold. This shouldn’t have been difficult, considering I pre-date it. And yet it was. I actually struggled to remember how people – myself included – expressed themselves (read also: showed off) to their peers and wider social groups. I’m certain we did use online networks (hazy memories come to mind of painstaking waits for screeching modems to connect, woefully basic Internet chat rooms and a now long-redundant profile on Bebo, the amateur precursor to Facebook), but I can’t honestly remember more than that.
Further rumination on this subject has me wondering if we actually cared as much in the ‘old world’ about what people thought of us and how we were perceived. Or was it, in fact, the dawn of the social media age that was responsible for turning a whole generation (and most likely all subsequent generations) into shallow, self-obsessed egotists who would rather spend their leisure time posting photos to make their friends jealous than actually enjoy whatever it is they’re doing?
I think the reality is that people – children, adolescents and adults alike – have always and will always have an inherent desire to be liked and to feel part of social groups. Before Twitter and Facebook were invented we flirted with rudimentary forms of social networking to extend our reach into such groups. Before those existed we made do with making friends in ‘real life’ situations. Our need to be accepted and popular was just as great, but we just had smaller social circles.
Now that social networks have become stratospheric in their popularity we have grown greedy for more. It’s a natural progression, but a dangerous one. Having hundreds of ‘friends’ on a social networking site can make you feel popular, but if you can count the number who would be there for you no matter what on less than one hand it speaks volumes about the meaning of those ‘friendships,’ and how much homage we should really pay them.
Thinking about friendship groups and the importance of being accepted reminded me of this group photo from a holiday last year in Windermere. We had such a fantastic time and all got on so well – it’s times like those you realise the importance of having REAL friends who are always there, through the good times and the bad.