What Students Are Saying About Ignoring Text Messages, Sharing Their Lives Online and a “Melting Man” – The New York Times
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Teenage comments in response to our recent writing prompts, and an invitation to join the ongoing conversation.
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This week on The Learning Network, one of our writing prompts asked teenagers if it is acceptable to ignore texts and other forms of online communication. We also wanted to know how much of their personal lives they share online. And, as one of our Picture Prompts, we invited them to interpret an image of a liquefying figure.
Thank you to all those who joined the conversation this week from around the world, including teenagers from Barcelona, Spain; Coraopolis, Pa.; and Valley Head High School in Valley Head, Ala.
Please note: Student comments have been lightly edited for length, but otherwise appear as they were originally submitted.
In her guest essay “Ignoring a Text Message or Email Isn’t Always Rude. Sometimes It’s Necessary,” Erica Dhawan takes on messaging culture, from “triaging” emails, texts and Zoom requests to being “ghosted.”
We invited students to weigh in with their thoughts on the demands of nonstop digital communication. While they had a variety of opinions on when it is and isn’t acceptable to not respond, many agreed that being expected to be constantly available is a burden on their generation.
I always ignore text messages. Not because I feel like ignoring the person or because I’m being rude but because I don’t feel the need to reply. Most of the time I feel too lazy to reply to some people which is something I could work on but at the same time its not at the top of my priorities. I don’t think ignoring messages is rude unless that person needs something that you’re avoiding. I understand that everyone is busy and not everyone is going to reply right away and I feel like that’s something everyone should also understand.
— Ayleen, New Mexico
I don’t feel like it’s rude unless I click the text message and then read it and leave it…otherwise, I think it could simply mean that I don’t want to talk or that I haven’t had time to look at it yet. I do worry that it might seem rude but at the same time, the people who I text are my friends and acquaintances. They should at least know that it takes me some time to even want to answer them in any way.
— Samantha, Delaware
Some factors that I take into account when deciding how quickly to respond include how stressed I am at the time I receive the text, weather I should be completing another task, or, frankly, how much I enjoy talking to the person. Although it’s often frowned upon to ignore text messages because it is rude and can be interpreted as a disdain for the other person, sometimes people need to realize that I don’t want it be that I’m required to respond to people all the time.
— Lauren, Illinois
It takes 2-5 business days for me to respond to my messages. My friends constantly joke that they have to schedule a meeting for me to text back. Our generation and future generations are growing up in a world where we are constantly available. A world where text messages have their own culture, and customs. Where people have found ways to capture tone through punctuation and phrases. In this culture we also push the expectation that we have to respond, or always be available-otherwise it’s rude. Yet outside of the digital world, we aren’t always available. We also end conversations. Yet in the digital world, the same customs don’t translate similarly. I believe you should take your time to answer texts if your busy or stressed, and end conversations respectfully. Maybe a digital farewell for instance liking, disliking, hearting their message, or turning on your read receipts, might make “ghosting” less “deadly.”
— Antonella, New Jersey
Though I feel a hint of guilt admitting this, I do ignore texts and email—probably a little more often than I should. But my actions are free from all malice; rudeness is not intended. We’re living in a day and age in which contacting someone halfway across the globe is remarkably easier than walking five steps to the fridge for an apple. As smartphones and communication apps thoroughly permeate all aspects of our lives, the concept of “alone time” has been seemingly lost. How can I truly spend time by myself and for myself when just about anyone can contact me so effortlessly—and expect me to respond immediately. The pressure to drop all tasks at hand and respond to texts is tremendous. As is mentioned in the article, letting others know when your “working” hours and “off-screen” hours are can immensely help alleviate the aforementioned problem. So when I disregard messages from others, I am not actually ignoring them; I am just putting myself and my needs first, as should everyone.
— Jessica, Los Angeles County, CA
I think when people overburden themselves with the idea of constantly being able to get back to people quickly, then communicating doesn’t really become something enjoyable and fun which is the purpose of the entire “quick communication”. I think the author was able to portray what negative ideas can stem from not responding or ignoring texts but they at the same time recognize that the entire basis of having fast responses as a social norm can be stressful sometimes.
— Sofia, Chicago
Anyone can admit, ignoring others (particularly when the matters are time sensitive or important) is rude. No one likes feeling like the matters they find important or need consult on, don’t matter. It’s a belittling experience to feel purposely ignored or neglected. However, I believe there should be more leniency within how offensive neglecting digital communication is perceived. When reaching out to someone online, in my opinion, you are waiving your right to be annoyed on the timeline someone takes to respond.
In my own experience, ignoring digital messages sent to me hasn’t been out of spite or negligence, just simply the outside environment that I dealing with at that moment. Sure, I wish I could respond to every email, text, and dm within the first 10 minutes someone sends it to me, but I am human. I’m not always in the space to effectively respond or even deal with topics presented to me. I feel often times too, people neglect that within the digital era accessibility has exponentially increased, Your message is not the only one I’ve received.
— Lula, Glenbard West High School
The constant urge to deal with someone and the feeling of obligation to give one your constant effort should not be seen as necessary at all, especially in texting. In the world we live in today, ignoring something as insignificant as a text personally isn’t seen as anything near a big deal to me, especially as how accessible and how often you have the ability to text somebody. If we always followed the idea “ignoring texts is not okay” you would always practically have to get into unnecessary conversation, taking advantage of a text’s accessibility. We cannot constantly rely on making conversation through a phone, addictions are a real thing and with the prevalence of it we should try to take steps in the opposite direction, go meet up and hang out with others instead of being trapped in our own technological bubble.
— Hasib, W.T. Clarke HS, Westbury, NY
I think the constant buzzing of my phone is a great distraction and oftentimes, I simply ignore the messages that continue to be fed into my phone. I do so because of real-world activities. Why should I stop studying for a massive test in my AP European History class just to text my friend back the word, “Hello”? My parents continue to tell me to put my real-world self above my digital self, so I choose to ignore these distractions that I know would lead me to spend hours responding to other unread messages. When I am caught up in homework, studying for tests, or another important activity, I only respond to the messages from my loved ones.
— Payton, Illinois
Honestly, I ignore messages most of the time. I constantly have my phone on Do Not Disturb. I also have notifications disabled for all social medias I use. Although, I occasionally check my messages and respond sometimes. Personally, I don’t see it as rude because I don’t discriminate when I do it. I don’t specifically ignore one person’s text, I ignore everyone’s. I do this because I have different priorities than most people my age. Social media is not a big part of my life so I tend not to focus on it as much. I can understand why it may seem rude to some people, but that’s only because of miscommunication. They don’t know my priorities so they assume I’m acting upon theirs, and according to their priorities, me taking hours to respond or not responding at all seems rude.
— Sufyan, Delaware
I tend to take a long time to respond to messages, many people get angry, but I do a lot of things in the day and I tend to forget to respond to texts. College, work, family and even friends take up a lot of time. And it’s okay to disconnect from people for a while to be calm and relaxed, it’s okay to have some alone time and people should understand and respect that.
— Kristel, Ecuador
While many would say that ghosting can be a means to efficiently remove stress from your life, I would argue that in no way is it appropriate, and should be heavily frowned upon. Ghosting is synonymous with drama, and anyone causing too much stress is liable to be ghosted. Oftentimes, we feel those who we ghost deserve it- “they are hurting me”, we think, “and my mental health comes first.” Now while this is true, it has become much too commonplace for ghostings to occur as a result of everyday missteps. Be it a friend who might suddenly seem to have romantic interests, or a few words that shouldn’t have been said, we are much too quick forget, rather than forgive. It makes sense of course, why go through the effort of trying to work things out when you can shut it all out with the simple click of a button? The reason, I hope, is obvious. It’s not just rude, it’s dehumanizing- it sends the message to the person being ghosted that their relationship is not worth saving. As someone who has been ghosted by their best friend in their deepest time of need, I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a ghost- for months I asked myself what I did wrong, wondering why they would leave me then of all times. I hope it is clear why ghosting is not okay. You needn’t answer every message right on time, but if someone’s upsetting you, remember that they’re a person too, and it’s selfish to assume their pain disappears as soon as you choose to ignore yours.
— Brandt, Glenbard West High School
In “Hollywood’s First Family of Putting It Out There,” Jon Caramanica writes about Will, Jada, Jaden and Willow Smith, who have shared “unexpectedly vulnerable” conversations with their large online audience.
We asked students about their own willingness to share their personal lives publicly. Teenagers described the contradictory nature inherent in social media: it can both connect you with others and simultaneously create a barrier to living in the moment. Here are some of their responses:
For me, I am not active on social media; therefore I don’t share any of my life but that’s not to imply that social media is all bad. I chose to take a break from social media because I realized that it can be a very draining and toxic environment. I saw how I started to subconsciously develop bad habits from being on social media all the time: procrastinating, being a follower, afraid to be myself. The downside of sharing your personal life on a global stage is you’re giving others the opportunity to judge your performance. Each person is unique and thinks differently so what’s normal to you might be abnormal to someone else. People tend to judge what is not normal to them; therefore, imagine that heightened 10 fold on a platform that allows you to say anything you want–hiding behind a screen-with no real repercussions behind it. Yet, all of that just to say, I still believe social media has a lot of upsides. Social media can be used to spread awareness of social issues, give coverage to a positive business, and even help reform some unjust laws to better help underserved communities. In this case, social media was used to emphasize to others self empowerment and not being afraid to make mistakes or be who you truly are, dispute what people may think. Social media can do a lot of good if used with positive intentions but it can also do a lot of harm with the wrong motives; furthermore, it all depends on the user not the app.
— Diamoni, Chicago
As teenagers, we have grown up in a time period in which everyone has social media. Double-tapping through Instagram and clicking through private stories has been a daily, or, hourly habit. As much as I hate how much harm social media causes, I think it can still be something beautiful and enjoyable. Posting on social media kind of romanticizes my life in a way. Looking through my Instagram or Tik Tok feed and Snapchat memories reminds me of wonderful moments and memories I have lived through. I enjoy sharing these special moments with the people around me. I share what is important to me, the moments in my life I never want to forget.
— Shaelyn, Miami
On top of being known as one of the most open book people you’ll meet, I share most of my life online. I don’t really have secrets, nor do I care if people know most aspects of my life. I post pictures of all my friends on Instagram, but Snapchat is where I post every thought that comes into my head. I like people to know what I am thinking, & I like when people respond to my posts. Through posting random things from the fact that I lost my jacket, and my friend found it in her laundry room, to wanting to buy unneeded purchases like a Comfy, & a girl saying I can have hers because she doesn’t wear it; posting my every thought is usually beneficial…I do not document the deeper, sadder parts of my life online. I don’t want to come off more overdramatic and emotional than I already do. I’d rather handle things in private with my close friends. I admire Smith’s wife & daughter for creating a chat show to “get it all out there.”
— ZZ, Block 4 Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC
I choose not to share my mental state on social media, because I find that it is a personal part of an individual’s life. When I am feeling depressed or not in a good mental state I find that self isolating and regaining my healthy spiritual and mental state is more beneficial. If I were to share my rough times on social media the downside would be that my followers would only think of me as that person. They wouldn’t see me for who I really am. Individuals assume who you are based on what they see when they are not close to you in life. They infer instead of trying to understand. It is not everyone’s business what you have going on in your life. Some followers are considered as fake friends and will use your hard times against you. This is why I find that an individual’s mental state should not be documented on social media.
— Aislinn, Maury High School
Per my parents wishes, I do not share very much of my personal life publicly on social media. Obviously, I tell my close friends what is going on in my life, but I do not tend to publicly share this with everyone. My mom is a teacher at the school I attend, so I do not think it would be fair to her to be putting everything going on with our family out there for everyone to see because not only would I be infringing on my own privacy, I would be infringing on hers as well. My parents do not post very much on social media apps and while they have not directly asked, I can tell that they prefer I do the same. My personal life overlaps with a lot of their personal lives, so it’s not fair that I potentially share things with everyone else that should remain confidential within our family.
— Nate, Miami Country Day School, Miami FL
Sharing online can be scary at times but it gives you control over a narrative that might otherwise be skewed if shared by someone else. As the author discusses the Smiths and their involvement in social media, she states, “…turning the sorts of revelations that would have been relegated to salacious tabloids and unauthorized biographies in earlier eras into the stuff of self-empowerment.” She explains while the Smiths may share a lot of their personal problems online, them sharing it themselves gives them the ability to alter their stories anyway they want instead of the press doing it for them. Social media—while toxic at times—can be a form of self-expression for some or a way to control a narrative for others.
— Morgan, Kenwood Academy High School
Social media is present in our day to day life. It can be a good tool to meet new people with your same interests, learn about a variety of topics for free and even find job opportunities. However, getting to obsessed, and sharing too much about you personal life can be very dangerous. Whatever you publish on these sites, stays there forever, and may be accessed by anyone. Within a few minutes of searching, some hackers may know where you live, what school you go to or who your friends are. To stay safe, you have to think carefully about what you’re posting, and think: Would I like everyone to know this?
Furthermore, companies now search through social media before employing, and certain posts or comments may give them a bad image, and therefore make it less likely that you get the job. Things you post without thinking, may have inimaginable consequences in the future. To avoid this, people must be conscious about what they are sharing online, and think about what impression it gives.
— Ainara, Barcelona, Spain
Kids today feel so much pressure to even post on social media because of all these ideas that influencers/celebrities push, but more specifically how you’re supposed to be “living your best life”. It all comes off very fake and unrealistic. I think celebrities like the Smith’s set a good example. I’ve seen most of the Smith’s, whether from tv, or music and unlike some famous families like the Kardasians, they just felt like people. The type of vulnerability from celebrities is good, because people are vulnerable. Influencers and celebrities shouldn’t be manufactured to only show the good stuff, because it’s harmful mostly to kids and teens, they should just be shown as real people, and maybe if they were, there wouldn’t be such pressure to appear as “perfect”.
— KS, Block 1 Hoggard High School, Wilmington NC
I’ve seen a lot of ads concerning Will Smith specifically, all the shows and social media stuff he’s been doing and I think that’s great. Especially when he discusses his trauma, because I feel like this could potentially help some people come out and talk about trauma that they might have been dealing with. Overall I think that their newfound online presence makes them more relatable compared to most celebrities, and it can be beneficial to those that are exposed to it.
— Gavin, US
I know the Smith family quite well, I listen to both Willow and Jaden’s music and adore them a lot. I think what Will has been doing by posting his life and his struggles online is truly inspiring and I could never be able to do that. In my opinion, posting your entire life online makes you vulnerable and I think I would constantly be anxious if someone knew what was going on at all times of the day. That being said, a celebrity family being able to have this much transparency can be really impactful and it also shows the reality of these famous families. Not everything is perfect and pretty and Will showing that is what makes him and his family a true role model.
— Rahi, Block 2 Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC
The pandemic made it feel like online life was real. We spent hours each day consuming quarantine routines on TikTok, talked with people from around the world in comment sections, or started political arguments with once in-person friends who the pandemic isolated us from. With such little interaction, our online personas became… us.
Now, comical phrases like “chronically-online” and “go touch grass” are gaining traction. In my opinion, there is a bit of truth to those jokes. It is vital to our collective health to put our technology down to enjoy time that we can spend with others.
I try my best to enjoy real life. I am lucky to live around people who are vaccinated and wear masks, so I never take a moment that I share with them for granted. My phone stays in my pocket during dinner parties. Still, I am not shy to spend time outside alone. Frequenting cafes to read or sitting on a park bench to people-watch are much more fulfilling then scrolling through endless feeds. It feels so nice to disconnect and see my community for what it really is rather than what the internet claims.
— CD, Coraopolis, PA
I do not feel the need to share everything about myself online. I think it completely takes away from the concept of life and living in the moment. If you are on vacation, and all you are doing is updating everyone else about what you’re up to, are you really enjoying the vacation and using your time in a new place wisely?
Phones and social media have taken over our lives. It seems as if everyone is addicted to it, although I am guilty of this myself sometimes. When I am with friends, family, or on vacation, I try my absolute hardest to be off my phone.
— Bentley, Block 2 Hoggard High School, Wilmington NC
In our Picture Prompt “Melting Man,” we asked students to give us their insights on the meaning of the image above, and share how it might connect to their lives. Students conveyed a variety of ideas, including the feeling of falling apart, the monotony of the pandemic and the boredom of Mondays.
The melting man is falling, “melting” if you will, apart. To relate this to everyday life as a teenager, or people would be to represent how we fall apart ourselves. We all try and save face, and we “hold it together” but most of us are slowly slipping away into our insecurities maybe, or just worries in general. In relation to society, however, this can be put into perspective of the Russian invasion of Ukraine which most believe is heading to the falter and deterioration of peace, and borders of today’s world.
The Melting Man can be seen as a reflection of everyone who looks at it. We try to see ourselves as a collected thought where we know, or think, we’re okay. But when we truly reflect and look into the mirror, ourselves, we see our very own melting man. Everyone has their own melting man, their own version, and vision as to what it means.
— Kolby, Valley Head High School
I think this image represents the anxiety we all feel and how much it weighs down on all of us making us feel like we are melting. I experience anxiety everyday and I know that it feels like melting, it feels like doing anything will lead to something bad and that lays so heavy on you everyday. I wrote a poem to express this feeling and what I worry about.
Death of family or friends
People liking me at school but not on the weekends
My good grades in school being a bluff
Fitting in too much or not enough
My health failing me
Not being able to be free
Never seeing him again
Dying and not knowing when
— SP, Block 2, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC
Losing yourself. Losing all sense of time and productivity may be what the artist is trying to portray with this piece. Everything slowly catches up to you not knowing how to deal with it. Literally seeing yourself in your hands. Slowly disappearing. His calmness is eerie; as if he is accepting his fate. He does nothing to prevent losing himself, so he sits there in silence, thoughtless. This piece is an admirable visual of what is happening to the world and more specifically, us. Everything slowly disappears as if it never existed. Trying to self-reflect; what we should have done or what we did not do. Rehashing the past causing an endless cycle.
— Melannie, Classical High School
This image depicts the reality of how exhausting life can be at times, bringing light to a struggle we all know. From an outsider’s point of view, you do not know exactly what the man is going through, but it is obvious that something he is experiencing in his life is weighing him down, withering away at his overall energy. As a person who has a very busy, stressful schedule as an AP student, employee, girlfriend, daughter, sister, etc., this photo speaks volume. After a long stressful week full of due dates and clock-in times, it is easy to let yourself feel so tired you could melt. This photo depicts how all people probably feel at times, even though we may not know exactly what it is they are going through.
— Mikayla, Bryant High School
To me, this image conveys how one’s life can easily fade away into a monotone way of living. And about how it is too easy for one’s life to become boring and uneventful with school or work. For me, I would feel this way because of school. I wake up everyday at the same time, just to go through the same eight classes for eight-ish hours every day. And after I’m done with that, I go home and continue to do schoolwork for varying amounts of hours every day, usually around two to three more hours. And once i’m finally done with all of that, I get a small amount of time to live my life I a way that I want to before I go to sleep just to wake up and repeat the whole process over again. It gets tiring and boring, and no one wants that. So I think that this image is saying to change up your life a little every now and then in order to prevent yourself from melting away into a monotonous lifestyle.
— Peter, Glenbard West HS, Glen Ellyn IL
I think that this image reflects the feeling that comes with a lack of motivation or inspiration. It’s the feeling of sluggishness that seems to accumulate in one spot, sticking us there like a melting popsicle on a hot sidewalk. When devout of motivation, it’s difficult to move out of a specific mindset. We usually tell ourselves that we simply can’t finish that overdue project, get outside, or even see friends and family, just because the lack of motivation makes those things seem impossible. It may even feel like holding ourselves up, at the very least, is impossible. This is when we feel stuck, both physically and mentally, and may experience ourselves “melting away” from the stress, pressures, or boredom of everyday life.
— Keweenaw, Glenbard West High School
I think the artist is trying to represent mental health. The image shows a man looking up while melting which can represent that he is just going through the motions of each day without thinking too much about it. When Covid-19 hit, we were on strict lock down and were limited on the places we were allowed to go. Due to this, some people may have felt like they were trapped at home, this can eventually lead to anxiety or depression. I can relate to this personally because during the second year of lock down, my mental health was really bad to the point where I had anxiety attacks every 2 days. Overall, the message I think the image wants to get across is to indulge in self care.
— Madeline, Hawkins High School, Los Angeles CA
I personally think that this can represent many things. But the main topic I thought about when I first looked at this was someone overwhelmed, drowning in their own thoughts. The peace shown in his eyes can be the uncontrollable urge to appear like you’re okay, or also the look you have when you’re looking inside your head, not in front of you. The melting eyes I feel represent the tears falling because of all the stress and sadness doubting yourself can cause. The melting head is like the feeling of losing your head, not being yourself anymore. And the casual pose could represent that this can be a daily thing for someone. That he is used to not feeling well everyday.
— Yosibel, Classical High School, RI
Melting along with his face are his eyes, which gives off the illusion of crying. And while crying is typically associated with sadness and negative emotions, I think it is worth mentioning that both of his eyes are looking up, symbolizing that there is hope in every situation. I believe that no matter what circumstances we are put through, we will always have it in us to pull through in the end. Whether you believe in a God or not, we are constantly being put to the test. Although we may feel discouraged and “melt,” it is up to us to make things right, and I believe we are all more than capable of doing so.
— Teak, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC
Sitting there staring. She’s at the front of the classroom going on a never ending spiel. On and on… American Revolution… John Locke… George Washington… Catching every couple words in a sentence. Feeling the walls start closing in on you. Keep eye contact. Keep nodding. Close your eyes, you’re being disrespectful. Wake up. Your head starts to become heavy every sound you hear in the room around you all blends together like everything is distant. Feeling like you’re drowning in a fog by yourself. Waiting for something to happen. Anything.
— Maya, Block 1, Hoggard High School Wilmington, NC
It’s another Monday morning back at my least favorite place, school. I HATE MONDAYS. Everything about them, they all just are awful. I’m forced to come here and sit in front of a teacher and listen, when I’m still half asleep. It seems as if I’m basically wasting the teacher’s time. My head is thinking a million different thoughts than what she’s talking about. I feel like my face is melting from all of this stress, confusion and so much more going on. I’m still thinking about what I did this past weekend and thinking about what to do next. We should just cancel Mondays. No one likes them, even the adults! I’m so drained from everything we’ve done my head feels like it’s spinning. it’s all just a mess. I wish Mondays never existed.
— Haylee, Block 4, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC
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