By Melissa George, Illinois College
From childhood through middle school, I had a hard time being social with my peers as I was consistently the object of ridicule and bullying for being “different.” I was shamed for not wearing the same clothes, for having “unusual” hobbies (evidently reading was no longer acceptable), and I even allowed them to push me to the point of depression. The few good friends I did have would come and go every couple of years, leaving me to restart my social life each time. I learned to become more reserved, even at home, and found great difficulty in finding my voice.
When I was twelve, I became more involved with the internet and gradually learned about social networking. I found a forum for people who had similar interests to mine, took the risk unknowing if I would be liked, and made friends almost instantly. I had finally found a place where I was accepted (even celebrated, at times) for my differences. No one cared who I was, where I was from, or what my life was liked, all they cared about was being my friend because they saw who I really was: a good, caring, friendly person who wanted nothing more than someone to share good and bad times with. Eventually, I even became one of the forum’s peer counselors, a position only given to those of proper merit and capability. People began not only talking to me about our common interests, but appreciated any advice and compassion I could offer in their times of hardship.
Today, I am far more outgoing than I could ever have imagined for myself. I have a wonderful group of stable friends who love me as I love them, and they even call me “mother” as my peer-counseling experience has expanded into part of my everyday life. Had it not been for social networking, I believe none of this would be my reality. My internet friends helped me grow into who I am now, and have provided me with my goals of being a social worker after graduating. Similarly, I would not have ever made some of the friends that I still have and love today, many of whom live in different states (even countries). Many people tend to believe the internet causes people to become antisocial and introverted, but it has done the exact opposite for me by providing me with a safe haven to grow and find my personality.