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Unlinking teen self-worth from social media

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ”

 

Hebrews 13:5, NKJV

Each time your impressionable son or daughter logs on to Facebook or Instagram, they enter a potential show-off showdown.

Imagine this, for example: A friend changes her Facebook status to “In a relationship,” uploads a photo album of her Bali vacation, then posts a video showing her gourmet lunch, which she says she can eat guilt-free because she ran a half marathon this morning. These three posts by one person account for only a small fraction of the barrage of updates your son or daughter sees on social media sites each and every day!

The power of a page: Envy

The findings of a study conducted by two German universities reveal the outcome of this digital show-and-tell. In their survey of 600 Facebook users, nearly 30 per cent of respondents described their emotional state after surfing Facebook as mostly negative. They identified envy specifically as the root of this negativity.

What did these German teens envy?

Travel and leisure, happiness and social relations of others were the highest-ranked triggers. The negativity doesn’t end there though. First, it results in what the German researchers called the “self-promotion-envy spiral”, with Facebook users “reacting with even more self-promotional content to the self-promotion of others”. So begins a gruelling game of one-upmanship. Second, the study found that many social media users ride an emotional seesaw: as envy increases, life satisfaction decreases.

Parental guidance is advised

As a parent, your task is to help your teen unlink their self-worth from their digital space and to equip them to debunk social media fallacies. With your guidance, your teen can firmly ground their sense of value in God’s words and love, not online comments and ‘likes’.

With the four tips in this handy F.A.C.E. acronym, you can help your teen securely face social media.

Feeling: Does your daughter feel lonely when comparing her online ‘friends list’ to a peer’s ever-growing list of contacts? She needs to get honest with her feelings. Teach her to ask herself, “Am I really alone here, or am I surrounded and loved by real friends and family?” In any case, God’s truth stands as a guideline for social media use: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ ” (Hebrews 13:5, NKJV)

Activity: Ask your teen daily about their social media activity. For example, “What did you see or post on Facebook today?” or “I saw your post on Facebook today. Is everything okay?” Then discuss with your son or daughter their motives for using the site. Are they trying to be socially active by staying in the loop of events? Are they sincerely engaging with their friends online? Or are they passively ‘creeping’ acquaintances’ profiles to fill time or to satisfy curiosity?

Content: Help your teen realise that social media content isn’t a reliable benchmark for success. People use social media sites to post edited, filtered and embellished content to their page, justifying lies for the sake of ‘likes’. 2 Corinthians 10:12 warns that when we compare ourselves with one another, we aren’t wise.

Instead, help your teen know that God formed their “inward parts,” and they are therefore “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-15, NKJV). Consider writing these verses on sticky notes to post on their computer screen. Scripture is a powerful defence against social angst.

Engagement: To get the most out of a social network, teens need to replace much of their passive snooping with active engagement. Your son probably doesn’t need encouragement to log on to Facebook, but if he is prone to look, linger and lament, he needs to start actively connecting with his friends by posting positive comments or sending direct messages.

Psychologist Amy Wood recommends that to break your daughter’s social media daze, graciously urge her to immediately walk away from cyberspace and to visit with real people when she feels herself slipping into comparison.

Does social media seem to fall outside your parenting comfort zone? Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be! If Facebook is unfamiliar to you, simply begin exploring the network. In the meantime, take heart. Your teen’s current struggles to fit in is strikingly similar to yours when you were a teen! With this common connection, loosen up and be real with your son or daughter.

Remember that it is your connection to your son or daughter that is real, not what appears on Facebook or Instagram. No matter how real the posts may appear, they should not determine any young teen’s self-worth.

 

Used by permission of Focus on the Family Singapore. For more information on family life resources and workshops, visit www.family.org.sg

© 2015 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

 

Picture by Siwasan/Bigstock.com

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