I started noticing something was different about my daughter when she would make up excuses for not going somewhere, just as we were headed out the door. She suddenly had too much homework, wasn’t feeling well, or just wanted time to herself. While these were all valid excuses, they kept coming up time after time, and finally set off a warning bell when it came time to celebrate her birthday.
“I don’t want to go anywhere, Mom,” she told me after I asked her where she wanted to celebrate. “I’d rather just stay in.”
I knew this was not like her, because Elise had always been adventurous, vibrant, and ready for anything. Learning about her depression was a big eye opener for me. I had to learn to not blame myself for her feelings. I also had to learn how to better support and help her during the difficult times. I knew that pushing her was never the answer, but this new development with her wanting to just stay at home all the time was not healthy. I knew something needed to change.
“I admire how hard you are working in school, Elise, but it’s your birthday and the family would really like to celebrate it with you. Is there a reason you don’t want to go out? Did something happen?” I was concerned, but I also wanted her to know that I was there for her—whatever her reasons may be.
“Mom, it’s hard for me to want to go out when I don’t look the way I want to. I don’t like how I look, and I don’t want anyone else to see me like this. A girl in my class posted a picture of me sleeping, and I’m embarrassed about how I look in it. I don’t want anyone from school to see me.”
This response was not one I had expected. Elise had never voiced such concern about her looks to me before, at least not this seriously. I wondered what had brought this on, and why this picture was suddenly dictating my child’s social life. I couldn’t help but wonder how to help her overcome this fear of doing activities she once loved doing. How could I help her recognize her great qualities?
Comparisons Teens Are Facing Online
Our children are the new Generation Z. They are the most consumer and tech savvy generation of all time. Generation Z is more attached to their smartphones than anyone before. They are creators and are “always on.” When they engage with social media, they are bombarded by the highlights from the lives of their friends and acquaintances, leading them to very easily compare themselves to the best in those around them. Their popularity is measured in a very tangible way by shares, “likes,” and comments, as well as number of followers and “friends.”
I have noticed that it is not just our children that are feeling “less than” on social media. Parents can also feel inadequate when viewing posts of other seemingly perfect parents and their perfect children.
I wanted to let my daughter know she was not alone in this, and that I struggled with feeling inadequate, as well. We talked about the significance of feeling “liked” by others, and how it is a poor measurement for our self worth.
Help Them to Reach Out and Reconnect
Together, my husband and I have spent long hours figuring out how we can best help our daughter to not compare herself to others online. We found this helpful infographic and have used it to discuss how social media negatively affect her emotional health.
We knew she was often on social media, scrolling through the feeds of her friends and assessing how many “likes” their photos had compared to her own. She complained about it at the dinner table, saying that one of her friends got twice as many “likes” for a picture of them, that she had posted the day before. She wondered why she wasn’t getting as many “likes.” This led to her questioning whether she was even liked in real life. Eventually, it got to the point that she was so discouraged with her looks and how unpopular she seemed to be online, that she stopped wanting to participate in activities outside of our home.
I knew she loved her friends and loved spending time with them; but lately it seemed she wasn’t putting forth as much effort to be around them or spend time with them in public places. She even complained about attending school, which had never been a problem for her before.
As a family, we decided to establish when and where we could be on social media and how we would use it. We decided we would not use social media when we were together as a family. We also decided to limit our time on social media to a maximum of one hour a day. With the time I found myself saving from not being on social media, I put forth more time in paying attention to my children and had more meaningful conversations with them. I even noticed I was in a better mood about my own self-esteem.
Elise began to do the same. I noticed that she began to reach out more to her siblings, my husband, and me. She began to open up more to me about her school day, instead of posting about it online. I felt that she was beginning to reconnect with our family, and she began to make an effort to see her friends again. I knew that I could not always control how she spent her time, but it was comforting to know I could help her find more time to do things that brought more meaning and positivity into her life.
QUESTION: Are your teens experiencing self-doubt and self-comparison because of what they view online? Is what they see online influencing how they look at themselves, and what activities they choose to participate in based on how they feel they look compared to others?
CHALLENGE: Explore ways your teens can reconnect with the real world. Educate them on the illusions social media portray and the dangers of comparing themselves to those they see online. Help them see their own self-worth by talking about attributes they have that are valuable and cannot be measured by their social media following or “likes” they receive. Create activities they can enjoy in place of using social media.
Edited by Kimberly Price and Nollie Haws.
Image provided by the author; graphics by Anna Jenkins.