I remember being a teenager. It wasn't easy. I regularly felt inadequate, depressed and lonely. I often compared myself and my life to the lives of those around me.
Today, my daughters are 14 and 16. They're at the age where their opinion of themselves has become increasingly more critical. I'm certain they have felt the same things I did as a teen.
However, the difference between our teenage experience is social media.
Today, "likes" and comments on social media can potentially mold a teen's self worth, and determine his or her social status. There is a need to always be “on,” so as to avoid missing the latest trends and happenings. Social media creates a constant desire to be part of the cool crowd.
I see and often worry about how social media is negatively affect my daughters’ opinions of themselves. It has to create a different type of stress unlike anything I felt at their age. It saddens and disheartens me to see teens being pressured to prove the ways they are better than one another on social media.
It's my job as their parent to remind them not only about the ways they are good enough, but to not let social media define who they are as a person. I'm trying to do this by helping them loosen the grip social media has on their lives. Here's how:
1. Be present in their online lives. One of the most important steps I can take as a parent is to know what social media sites my children use most frequently. That includes monitoring their phones and tablets, and following them on whatever sites they use. Actively engaging in the same social media sites they use can help provide insight on what they value most in these interactions and how they are affected by them.
2. Start the conversation. Getting teens to talk isn’t an easy task, but it’s important to understand how much they allow the stress of social media to get to them. Many children use social media as a way to validate themselves with others, and are disappointed when reality does not meet the expectations. It’s important to remind my girls of both the benefits and drawbacks to a strong social media presence, and that it’s best used to connect rather than compare.
3. Listen. Sometimes listening is more important than talking. There have been times when my children have confided in me about the social media habits that bother them most. It’s important to understand what bothers them and why to gain a better understanding of whether there are deeper issues that need to be worked through.
4. Limit use of social media. If I notice my girls’ social media interactions taking a toll on their mental well being, it may be time to limit the amount of time they spend trolling the social media circuit. Helping them disconnect from social media and reconnect to individuals on a personal level can help change the way they view their dependence on social media.
5. Take a social media sabbatical. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” could not be truer than in this situation. If I want my children to understand the importance of releasing social media’s grip on their lives, then I should be willing to do the same. Taking time off can help me to reevaluate how much I allow it to influence my life and decisions.