19-year-old Disney star Peyton List opens up about her approach to social media, from how she sets boundaries for herself in order to avoid oversharing with her 11.5 million Instagram followers to the importance of privacy and real-life connections.

Credit: Tommy Flanagan

Social media can be so addictive. But it’s my life outside the filter that I’ve been trying to focus on.

Let’s not get it twisted: I love social media. I love how it lets me connect with my fans, meet new friends—legit, I’ve made friends on social that I hang with in real life—and see the world from other people’s perspectives. (Shoutout to Michelle Obama for her awesome feed.) But there’s a pressure with social that can sometimes feel a little too extra.

I’ll post when there’s something cool or I see something that that’s worth sharing, a little something that’s beautiful while I’m living life. But between Snapchat stories and being rewarded for sending pictures and keeping a streak going, there’s a weird pressure that builds up to participate. It makes it more addicting, so it’s really hard not to share. And it’s a pretty fine line between sharing and oversharing.

People know a lot about my life—I’ve been on TV since I was three years old. And there’s not a lot to complain about. I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to do the work I do. I work really, really hard, and there are a lot of privileges and perks that come with the job. (There are also obscenely early wake-up calls and limited time with friends and family, but it’s all part of it.) There are things I’m very comfortable sharing with my community, like work and shows and set life. That’s the fun stuff, but it’s also not my whole life. It’s my work life. I keep the other stuff for myself. I have to.

Look, there have been plenty of times I’ve wanted to just record a confessional or a vlog of me responding to something, but I’ve always stopped myself. That’s when I call a friend or talk to my brother or mom. I’m trying to just work things out with someone in person, rather than over social media. It feels kind of weird to say, but I’ve been so much more into calling up a friend on the phone instead of texting. There’s just so much that’s missed when you don’t hear someone’s voice or the way they are saying something. A crying face emoji is not the same as hearing the crack in someone’s voice before they cry.

Mostly, I try and find a balance of sharing enough of myself to keep in touch with my fans, but always keeping the personal stuff—relationships, family stuff, private pictures—for myself. I want to have a dialogue with my community, one that really means something and isn’t just a series of filtered selfies. It’s part of what makes doing what I do so much fun. And I really like photography, so sharing photos of things that inspire me on Instagram comes pretty naturally. Tumblr has some really good poetry or cool blogs where people are open-minded, too. But you’ve got to create happiness and beauty for yourself, which means you can’t be on every platform all the time. At least I can’t. These days I stay away from Twitter, it’s really too judgmental. It’s mostly just people roasting each other, and I don’t even look at it.

Vlogging is something that’s pretty entertaining. But like with a lot of social media, I just feel it’s so easy to stop living your life, even though you’re creating all these moments. That’s the problem of trying to make something seem more significant than it really is, and it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Even when I’m with my friends and the camera turns on for a Snap, everyone starts dancing, you know? We were all just hanging out, but the camera turns on and suddenly we’re screaming and everyone’s acting like they’re having the best time—and we were having a great time, just not in an obvious way—and as soon as the camera goes off, everyone goes back to normal.

I probably spend 2-3 hours a day on social. I feel like I get a lot of inspiration from it. I’ve started following more people that spread messages about self-love, like “Girl Talk.” And it’s cool that I’m able to communicate with friends if I’m away. I’ve actually built strong friendships with the people I follow and the photos I like. Social media is a like a lot of other things in life: It can be awesome, but we’re in charge of setting our own boundaries about what we want to put out into the world.

It’s nice having secrets and parts of your life that are just for you and your closest people. And then when you sit down with someone at a restaurant there are, you know, actual things to talk about—moments that they don't already know. I’m 19 years old, but I’ve got girls who follow me who are a lot younger. At a recent meet and greet, a 9-year-old told me she follows me on Snapchat. It reminded me how the stuff I put out there is being seen by a lot of people. I’ve posted bathing suit photos and I’m fine with that—I’m comfortable with my body and want them to know that they should be proud of their bodies, too. But it’s complicated and I really am so careful. I think about everything before I post it, and sometimes I’ll even ask a friend if they think it’s too much.

I love social media and the connections that it makes possible. I love sharing ideas, meeting new people and being inspired by people I would have never met any other way. But there’s a danger to it that is real. It can suck up all your time, make you feel less than you are if you’re comparing your life to someone else’s perfectly filtered existence, and there are security threats that come with geo-tagging or live vlogging your exact location. Social media is great, but real social interaction—meaningful conversations, sleepovers, and laugh sessions with the people I love—is better. More face time than FaceTime, you know?