Tweens and Teens VS. Social Media

Tweens and Teens vs. Social Media

In my practice, I am constantly being reminded of how social media is affecting our youth. The very name “social media” suggests that it is a vehicle used for the promotion of social interactions. “Be social!, Get on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat!”. The problem is kids are beginning to become more and more isolated and depressed because of all of this social networking. Let me explain.

When kids spend time on social media and they look around at all of the happenings of others, they begin to feel as if they are being left out, not having enough friends, not having enough experiences. They quietly stalk their classmate’s lives from their bedrooms where they begin to compare themselves to others. Unfortunately, they also occasionally stumble upon a friend who cancelled plans with them but are posting pictures of themselves with others at the very same time. I had a patient tell me that she felt boring and depressed because she would constantly watch her friends having fun on social media while she was babysitting for the summer. I had another patient say that she was so anxious one night about forgetting her phone that she ruined her whole night with her friends. She went on to tell me that because she didn’t have her phone and couldn’t take pictures of the night’s events, it was like it never happened. She believed she wouldn’t get “credit” for the night of fun with her friends because she had no pictures to post on her social media sites.

Kids are frantically taking pictures and posting them in order to affirm and reaffirm their likability with others and therefore, raise their perceived value with their peers. Many of the kids in the photos may not even know each other but the more people in the photo, the more validated they feel. The constant message is “my life is exciting and full of friends and experiences so this proves that I have value”. The only problem with this is that when there is down time (and all kids have a lot of down time in the summers), anxiety begins to creep in and fragile and still developing self-images are affected. Learning about yourself by way of a superficial and misleading platform such as social media can lead to disaster for developing psyches. The kids can never measure up, never get enough “likes”, never catch up and certainly never experience enough to successfully compete with such a self-esteem eating monster.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain acts as the CEO of the brain, controlling planning, working memory, organization, and modulating mood. As the prefrontal cortex matures, kids can reason better, develop more control over impulses and make better judgments. Recent research has proven that the prefrontal cortex does not fully development until age 25. Without efficient reasoning skills and the ability to make accurate judgements about the world around them, kids are left to make assumptions about everything they see on social media. Basically, their perception is their reality.

Parents can help first by communicating with their child.
1. Explain to your child that social media is made up of smoke and mirrors and reflects only the “best angle” of someone’s life.
2. Discuss anxiety with your child and the physical ramifications of anxiety (racing heart, sweaty palms, ruminating thoughts). Teach them deep breathing techniques, suggest exercise and/or progressive muscle relaxation.
3. Talk about boundaries and the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries as they apply to social media (bikini pictures, behind pictures, pictures with sexual suggestion, pictures that may hurt others feelings, etc.).
4. Attempt to promote kindness in your children’s posts that will help lift up their friends rather than engage them in a popularity competition.
5. Don’t allow your child to isolate themselves, investing hours in social media.
6. Be available for questions or explanations of posts and pictures that their friends post. Kids are learning so much, so fast and making sure you are keeping up is imperative.
7. Help your child understand why some people post inappropriate things and how this may reflect on others perception of them. Our social media pages are our personal promotion pages now- how does your child want to be perceived to friends? Family? Teachers? The internet is accessible to everyone.
8. Ensure that your child challenges themselves to only post things that they would be comfortable saying to someone face-to-face.

Raising children can be tough and now they have so much material to compare themselves to. It is impossible to measure up in the eyes of social media and children should be told that. Your social media pages do not correlate to your self-worth nor does it justify your likability. Encourage your children to be individuals by promoting sports, church groups, hobbies and volunteer opportunities. Challenge them to leave their phone at home and live in the moment. Be a good example of this as well and soon your child will be a grounded and secure young adult with appreciation for uniqueness.