Social Media: A Highlight Reel That is Destroying Our Kids
By Mattie Barron
Social media is often referred to as a “highlight reel,” meaning everyone shares their best moments in life. Because of this, comparison is becoming a common negative feeling, especially in kids. “Such comparisons may occur frequently with [social media] use because users tend to disproportionately represent positive life developments, portray themselves to be happier than they actually are” (Hanna, 2017). According to a study done on about 1,500 teens and adults, Instagram was rated the “worst social media network for mental health and well being” (Macmillan, 2017).
What social media doesn’t show is how everyone’s life is just as imperfect as our own. It doesn’t show our arguments with family members, your neighbor losing her job, or the moment your teenager gives you the “I hate you” look. And it isn’t capable of showing us the loneliness and isolation that many people are feeling.
Occasionally you may come across a post of a mom with her child’s spit-up all over her or a so-called “Pinterest fail,” but how common is it to see things like this?
Posts like these exemplify reality! They showcase a non-picture-perfect life. They are wonderfully relatable rather than comparable. Since the majority of posts are highlights though, it’s hard not to compare our worst to others’ best.
I’m scrolling through Instagram right now, and out of the first 20 posts I see, not one is being vulnerable. Everyone is smiling, showcasing a great moment in their life or looking confident as ever. If I’m having a bad day and I scroll through social media, I often feel worse about my day because I see everyone enjoying their life with no stress or struggles.
It’s almost impossible to remember that everyone is struggling when all I see is “happiness.” Now, I’m not saying we should to post every bad moment in our life or that we even need to. I just want our kids to stop comparing their life through the flawed lens of social media.
How can we teach our kids not to get caught up in comparison?
Limit Screen Time
“Several findings indicate that greater time spent on [social media] is associated with more social comparison, which, in turn, is associated with more depressive symptoms” (Hanna, 2017). From personal experience, the more time I spend on social media, the worse I feel about myself. Every kid should feel like they have a valuable life. Rather than having your kids spend their free time on their screen, encourage them to indulge in a meaningful activity such as art, music, dance, sports, or a hobby! This will significantly increase their self-worth far more than any time spent on social media. Limiting screen time will help kids combat depressive feelings.
Discourage the “Discover” Page
On Instagram, there is a “discover” page that highlights posts you may like. I have spent mindless hours on this page, telling myself nothing but negative things. “Wow, she’s so pretty, why can’t I look like that?” or “I wish I had that outfit” or “My photos aren’t as cool as hers.”
I have a near and dear friend who has embraced Instagram this last year. She’s gone from 500 followers to 18k in months. She loves to pose, edit, and inspire! Since she’s taken on the title of a “cute famous Instagrammer,” I had to ask, how she does it. If I were her, I would feel stressed to post a new picture-perfect photo every day. And I was surprised to hear that it’s a love/hate relationship for her.
She expressed her enjoyment in photography, but also said, “It can be a lot to see so many images of people doing so many fun and different things, all with different styles and it can be easy to have yours lost and spiral down a hole of comparison.” Even my friend, who’s the cutest person alive, struggles with comparison.
Encourage Kids to Embrace THEIR life
Since I’ve stayed away from the discover page, I’ve embraced my photos and social media presence. Blurry ones, crystal clear ones, good lighting, bad lighting, etc. My Instagram page represents memories I cherish. It’s for me and my family, not to impress anyone else. Reminding our kids (many times) to keep this mindset will greatly help them not to compare.
I like to think of Instagram as a personal journal rather than a socializing network. Encourage your kids to be deliberate and authentic, but safe.
Help Kids Understand Reality
We see beauty ads with women who have no pores or lines on their faces, yet everyone we see in person has pores. Ads aren’t showcasing reality. Just about every photo we see on social media is filtered and edited in some way. It’s important to teach our kids that media-even social media–is unrealistic. Our book, Petras Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure, is a great resource for helping kids to better understand the reality of media illusions. It emphasizes how advertisements and social media is often littered with unhealthy messages.
If your kids can see a photo or video and understand that it has been edited to be unrealistically beautiful, this will help them not to play the comparison game.
Specifically, parents: take advantage of small teaching moments. If you’re driving in the car with your daughter and see beauty advertisements, let her know that the model is airbrushed, edited to be slimmer, and is showcased to be perfect, which just simply doesn’t exist. Teach her that it’s a false message being sent to her that she can look like that.
Teach Your Kids to Be Kind to Themselves
If comparison is too harsh on your children, consider helping them look for the positive in themselves. Doing so will ultimately help them feel better about who they are.
This can be done through positive self-talk, which is taught in our book, 30 Days to A Stronger Child. Self-talk is inward and validates our minds. It’s saying phrases such as “You can do this!” or “I will be better next time,” instead of saying “I failed again.” It’s about turning our negative thoughts into positive ones. Tell your kids to think of uplifting songs, quotes, or memories once negative self-talk begins. This will help train their mind to look for and stay focused on the positive in themselves.
Empower your children to use positive self-talk by committing to it and practicing it yourself. Be their example and teach accordingly! Along with this commitment, know that the power of limiting screen time, discouraging the discover page, and helping kids embrace their life and understand reality, are substantial steps to help a child combat a life of comparison. Your kids may not understand the benefits of you being involved now, but will certainly thank you for it later.
Mattie Barron is a current Senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Marriage and Family Studies. She is from Tri-cities, WA and has a passion to help create and ignite strong families. She hopes to work in the school system and aid in the support of children and families.
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Hanna, E., Ward, L. M., Seabrook, R. C., Jerald, M., Reed, L., Giaccardi, S., & Lippman, J. R. (2017). Contributions of Social Comparison and Self-Objectification in Mediating Associations Between Facebook Use and Emergent Adults’ Psychological Well-Being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 20(3), 172-179.
Macmillan, A. (2017). Why instagram is the worst social media for mental health. Time Website. http://time.com/4793331/instagram-social-media-mental-health/. Accessed May 16, 2018.