Morgan, Brittany Online

Bishop Feehan High junior Brittany Morgan uses her iPhone to log into and check her Facebook status. Morgan says she puts a lot of thought into what she posts on Facebook. (Staff photo by MARK STOCKWELL)

Brittany Morgan is a typical 16-year-old. After what has been another long day of her junior year at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, she arrives at her Foxboro home, throws down her backpack and, within a half-hour, checks Facebook.

She scrolls down the homepage, rapidly processing and digesting pictures, messages and conversations - interactions and small bites of information that collectively create a picture of the daily lifestyle and trends of her peers.

Here, her entire world - what her peers are doing, what her school is doing - is collected in one place to examine.

While for some, going on Facebook might be fun and informative, for others it creates stress, maybe even hurts their self-esteem at a particularly fragile age.

Teenagers, experts and studies say, judge themselves on the often fabricated, idealistic images displayed of their peers on the site.

If they fail to live up to those standards, the result could be a serious distortion of self-image.

Many teenagers have begun to take on something of an Internet persona: a carefully sculpted image of themselves that is often unrealistic and cannot be replicated in the halls at school, said Mina Tsay-Vogel, an assistant professor of communications at Boston University.

"With Facebook, we tend to put much more positively biased information out there," Tsay-Vogel said. "In terms of what we put for photos, we put more attractive photos. We overestimate ourselves."

There's little doubt that social media plays a central role in the lives of today's teenagers.

According to the Pew Research Center's American Life Project, 95 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online, and 80 percent use social networking sites such as Facebook.

And, that can be damaging.

According to a Pew Internet and Elon University survey, Facebook use among teens and young adults "predicted a thirst for instant gratification and quick fixes, a loss of patience, and a lack of deep-thinking ability due to what one referred as 'fast-twitch wiring.'"

One study by Dutch professor Paul A. Kirschner found academic performance declines with Facebook use.

"(Facebook) users (are) reporting both a lower mean (grade-point average) and spending fewer hours per week studying on average than (Facebook) nonusers, though the amount of total time spent on the Internet did not differ between the groups," he wrote in his study.

Feehan student Morgan said she puts a lot of time and thought into what she posts on Facebook.

She carefully picks which pictures of herself are seen or "tagged."

"There was this one profile picture where I was wearing hipster glasses because I knew I'd get a ton of likes because it was a fad," she said. "I did get a ton of likes on it. And that was kind of cool, to get so many likes."

Morgan also puts time and effort into comments she posts.

"Oh my God," she said. "I've used, like dictionaries and thesauruses to make my comments sound witty."

Teenagers are also choosy about which aspects of their daily life they present on Facebook.

They make a point of posting pictures and statuses that flood their pages every time they go to a party or out with friends. Yet, hardly ever would these same teens admit to a night spent at home.

"I feel like you have pressure to go out more. Like, you go onto Facebook and you have all of these pictures of really cool lives, and you want to show that you have a similar lifestyle on your own site," said Bishop Feehan student Abby Waldron, 17, of Franklin. "It feeds into a vicious cycle of competition."

She's hardly alone.

"If someone posts a really pretty profile picture and there's 100 likes in one day, and then you look at your own and it has no likes, it's like 'This must be an ugly picture', and you feel like you need to do better," said Bishop Feehan student Kaylee Ellis, 16, of Wrentham. "And, the same thing with statuses. If yours doesn't have enough comments, and you look at other people's who have a lot, it makes you feel lower than them, and alone."

The Berkman Center at Harvard University studied this trend earlier this year.

"The phenomenon of presenting ideal 'possible selves' to an online audience has been documented in social network sites," the center said in a report " People did tend to strategically emphasize positive aspects and craft a socially appealing profile People construct strategic identities with the audience in mind, emphasizing qualities considered high-status within that community and de-emphasizing attributes that are not characteristic of their environment."

Morgan does take solace when she is home alone on a Saturday night, watching her Facebook newsfeed fill with claims of the doings of her classmates.

"There's always people at home on Facebook - you can see them online," she said. "So you kind of know, hey, I'm not the only one who's at home alone tonight."

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