Social media can be like an ivy vine – it starts out looking pleasant, harmless and pretty. But it doesn’t take long for that ivy to spread – making it difficult to contain and potentially harmful to the structure on which it grows.
Same rules apply when it comes to Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat – particularly for teens. While their early feeds may be populated by friends and family, it’s easy for the accounts to become overloaded by celebrities, bloggers and other social media stars living lavish lifestyles – accounts that often present unrealistic standards of “perfection” that pose a serious risk to a young person’s mental health.
In fact, many doctors say they’re seeing an increase in what they’re calling social media anxiety disorder. In short, when we allow our confidence and self worth to be measured by the number of likes we get on a photo, we spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying about how we measure up to the people we see when we scroll, according to a report by Common Sense Media.
If those feelings and anxieties take over, they can likely harm real-life relationships and lead to isolation and depression.
“It’s risky to compare your insides to someone else’s outsides,” therapist Rachel Kazes told Teen Vogue. “On social media, people post the best version of themselves. If you compare that to yourself, you are comparing it to your whole self — flaws, fears, and all.”
So how do we as parents help our kids weed out the potentially harmful influences while still allowing them access to social media? It can be as simple as sitting down with them to clean up their social feeds.
Caroline Knorr of Common Sense Media offers the following tips when it comes to determining which accounts are healthy and which deserve the boot:
Identify the triggers. It’s so easy to fall into the comparison trap on social media, especially for young people who are still trying to find their place in the world. Help your kids understand what types of images or posts send them into a spiral of self doubt, jealousy or sadness. Is there a particular group of friends who seem to always be doing fun things without you and posting about it? Maybe it’s time to unfollow. Does that celebrity with the “perfect” body make you loathe your own? Definitely time to delete. There’s absolutely no reason to be following accounts that trigger unrealistic comparison or FOMO (fear of missing out). Help your child decipher what they’re feeling when they engage with certain accounts, and set a standard for what’s appropriate and what needs to go.
Fine-tune levels of engagement. Did you know that social media platforms offer tools that allow you to determine what you see on your feed without actually unfollowing or unfriending someone? Educate yourself and your teen on how to utilize these features as to avoid hurt feelings or potential friend drama. Facebook allows you to “unfollow” a person’s posts so they don’t show up in your feed. Instagram just instituted the “mute” feature that allows you to avoid a person’s posts in your feed while still “following” them. Twitter offers a similar “mute” feature. Encourage your kids to feel comfortable using these features when certain accounts become too much.
Turn off notifications. Seeing as how nearly half of American teens report being online “almost constantly,” there is absolutely no reason for them to be getting social media notifications during the times that their phones are in their pockets or backpacks. Set guidelines for your family – for example, we only check social media twice a day at these specified times – to avoid excessive use. It’s already an uphill battle, but by turning off notifications, you are eliminating some of the urge to obsessively check social media all day, every day.
Follow people who nourish your soul. We’ve talked a lot about identifying accounts that make your teens feel like garbage. How about the accounts that make them smile? “Kim Kardashian may be all over social media, but there are lots of folks who post uplifting, life-affirming, thoughtful, inspiring things that get kids thinking — and maybe even behaving — in ways that make them feel good about themselves,” Knorr writes. “Follow these kinds of people.” Perhaps by helping your teen identify the accounts that uplift, they’ll also learn to identify their true friends in real life. It’s a good way to pull them out of the murky social media world and back into the real one in which they have meaningful, important relationships that make them feel happy.
Once the weeds have been pulled, encourage your teens to invest in some self care, self reflection and offline activities. It’s important for them to remember that the world outside of social media is full of promise and adventure, and that they have a lot to contribute.
Might we also suggest taking the time to do the same type of “spring cleaning” on your own social media accounts? While teens are heavily influenced by what they see online, it would be erroneous to assume that adults aren’t vulnerable to the same negative effects. Perhaps sit down with your teen and participate in the purge together. Let them see that you are committed to healthy social media use as well.