by JR Whaley of Whaley Law Firm
hile parents have had to deal with and attempt to raise teenagers successfully for eons, this is the first generation of parents who have ever had to do so when faced with social media challenges. Selfies, likes, check-ins, emojis. Trying to understand, much less manage, all of the facets of social media can be exhausting. But, like it or not, social media is here to stay, and today’s parents must be aware of the impact social media can have on the self-image and self-esteem of teenagers. While it’s wonderful that social media allows us to stay in touch with friends, receive news and enjoy entertainment, social media also has serious pitfalls. The National Center for Health Research found that 25% of teens believe social media impacts them primarily negatively. Nearly 72% of teens disclosed that they have been cyberbullied. The Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram worsens self-esteem issues for 1 in 3 teenage girls. Additionally, 6% of adolescent girls with suicidal thoughts traced the thoughts back to Instagram.
Social media can cause teens to compare themselves to both impossible celebrity standards and an incomplete perspective of their peers. Many posts encourage envy because of the fun, good looks or fabulous lifestyle of the teen making the post. While teenagers of a previous era had to deal with such competition during school hours, images are now blasted out all day, every day. This constant bombardment, and the failure to put it in proper perspective, affects some teenagers’ self-esteem. But all hope is not lost. Parents have an opportunity to combat this trend. Here are some strategies that experts recommend to deal with the use of social media and its possible effects.
- Take social media seriously. Understand that teenagers are dealing with technology that no other teenager has before. Don’t minimize social media’s impact on teenagers’ self-esteem, even though wiser (and older) heads might not experience the same effect.
- Ask questions. Try to understand how social media might impact your teen’s self-esteem and instruct them that perhaps everything they see online is inaccurate. Ask questions about what they are seeing. Ask if they think photos have been copied or edited. Ask how it feels to get likes or for posts to be ignored.
- “Do as I say but not as I do” doesn’t work. Not sure if this parent’s age-old instruction has ever worked, but it certainly won’t with social media. Be aware of how you interact with mobile devices in front of your kids. Do you walk in the door from work, head buried in your phone to check those last emails? Are you checking your Facebook page when you could be interacting with your kids? Social media and digital technology can dilute the parent-child relationship. Be aware if you are the one guilty of the dilution.
- Set limitations on when and where family members can use devices in the house. These technology-free zones or hours should apply to everyone in the house. For example, no iPhones at the kitchen table, no checking social media until all homework is done, etc. Some even go on a “digital diet” wherein they take one day a week to take off from all digital media completely.
- Encourage your teen’s interests. Help them build esteem about what they do rather than how they look online. Lessons learned during the teenage years are critical for socialization and assimilation. Social media can help in that process by allowing teenagers to communicate with peers and become aware of the larger world. But parents must be mindful of and have a plan for pitfalls.