Recently, the role of technology in Gen Z was exposed in Netflix’s new documentary, ‘Social Animals.’ The show gave an inside look at the lives of three adolescents—a self-taught daredevil photographer capturing novel shots in New York City, an aspiring model and brand mogul, and a high schooler from Ohio that’s experienced the lowest of lows from social media influence.
These Teens and tweens, sometimes referred to as iGen or screenagers, are professionals in the social media spheres. They are also OUR kids. And the fact that they are kids (yes, tweens and teens are still kids!) is a big part of the problem. Because although they are experts at the tech side of everything, they are becoming victims to this digital world because they aren’t mature enough to handle it. And we as parents often don’t understand enough to help them navigate it all.
Let’s just take Instagram for example. It is becoming THE popular social network for 24/7 self-marketing, which involves the perfect caption, an impressive Instagram grid, and strategic posts to gain followers and likes.
It’s gotten harder for our tweens and teens to differentiate reality from the highlight reel of their peers’ social profiles. Spending hours perfecting their social identities, the pressures of social media can be overwhelming for teens and is leading to serious health issues like eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and depression. Many teens are witnessing the dangers of overexposing online.
Is Social Media Really That Impactful?
In short, yes, especially on teens. Research shows that 8- to 18-year-olds are engaged with some form of media about 7.5 hours each day. Pair that with the removed and somewhat anonymous nature of social media interactions and you have the perfect peer pressure storm.
Social Media’s Influence on Body Image
Body image isn’t just a matter of vanity, a negative body image can have a significant impact on a teen’s mental and physical health. With relentless social media feeds of “perfect” celebrities and peers, it can be hard not to draw comparisons. Recent studies show that 1 out of 4 teens report feeling stressed about how they look in posted photos and feel bad about themselves if their posts are ignored(and it’s not just girls).
While some companies are trying to help combat the pressures of social media—like Instagram’s “kindness camera effect,” which encourages kind comments and filters—the best course of action as a parent or supportive adult comes from establishing a strong relationship with your teen.
Here Are 3 Ways You Can Protect Your Teen’s Self Esteem From Social Media Threats
Admit You Can’t Relate.
Talking about something teens feel they know more about than you can be difficult, so make sure to embrace this reality. Instead of starting a conversation by telling them what to do and why you’re trying to limit screen time, try an approach like this:
“I didn’t grow up with social media. I don’t understand the pressure of
staying connected with friends on Instagram.”
This will help start a conversation with them, instead of it feeling like a lecture at them. It encourages them to share their experiences with you.
Encourage Them to Lead by Example.
While you can’t possibly filter what your teen is exposed to on social media, you can talk with your teen about the importance of digital etiquette. Having conversations about what is appropriate and acceptable on social media, builds trust and expectations. In these conversations, encourage them to use social media to build a sense of community, support friends, and be a positive force. Encourage them to come to you about social media pressures or issues. Research shows that having a trusted adult that teens feel comfortable turning to is the single most important factor in supporting healthy behaviors and higher self-esteem.
The most important thing you can do to help your teen boost self-esteem and confidence is to ask about their social media channels or posts, then listen when they share what they are thinking or feeling. You could ask,
“What are some ways you can avoid comparing yourself to others
on social media?”
Actively listen and offer other suggestions (if needed). Knowing that you are really listening to what they are saying, even if you sometimes disagree, helps to build a strong, trusting relationship with your teen.
Despite our best efforts it’s impossible to control everything teens do or see on social media, or in the real world for that matter! But with these simple steps you can provide positive reinforcement and ensure they have a safe, supportive space away from the screen.
This is a contributed post. Jennifer Salerno is an author, national speaker, and founder of Possibilities for Change. Her team developed the nation’s leading adolescent risk screening system, the Rapid Assessment for Adolescent Preventive Services (RAAPS). Dr. Salerno’s book, Teen Speak, and the Teen Speak series—complete with companion workbook and online learning course—has helped thousands of parents develop communication skills to overcome the most common challenges of parenting a teen.