I mentor a group of teenage girls and boys and each week, I plan an activity or discussion to get them to interact with one another and explore their inner thoughts and beliefs.
At a recent meeting, I planned to talk about the topic of self-worth and self-esteem. I began with a simple question, “When you look in the mirror, do you like what you see?” I asked the students to raise their hand if the answer was no.
Twelve of the 20 students raised their hand. I was flabbergasted. I decided to put my plan lesson aside and discover why more than half of these teens were dissatisfied with themselves.
I gathered the group into a circle in the middle of the room and asked a few probing questions such as “Why do you dislike what you see in the mirror?”
One young lady immediately spoke up. “I just don’t feel as pretty, smart, or interesting as the people I see on my social media accounts. Their lives are fabulous and mine in pretty bland.”
Several students agreed that social media had a big effect on their self-esteem.
“When I post a photo on Instagram and I only get a few likes, I immediately delete it,” said one young man.
I asked him why and he replied, “If they don’t like my photo, I feel like a loser.”
Many of the kids had also received hurtful comments on their social media accounts which made them feel even worse.
“Once, someone left a comment on my photo saying I was ugly,” said one girl. “I deleted the comment, but I was still bothered by it.”
It broke my heart to hear each of these kids’ stories. I wanted to give everyone a big hug and tell them that everything would be okay. As a social media professional, I understand all of the pitfalls of online engagement. You expose yourself to vulnerability every time you post something where others can express their opinion.
To help the students get a better understanding of the world of social media, I exposed a few secrets.
“Kim Kardashian probably takes 100 selfies before she posts the one she thinks is the best,” I told them. “Other people use filters and airbrush programs to make themselves look great. And there are many places online where you can purchase followers or Likes for your social media accounts.”
They were surprised to learn about the tricks that people use to make themselves seem more popular. They weren’t surprised about the 100 selfies because many of them practice that technique.
Before we left, I felt as if I needed to give the group some words of inspiration.
“A ‘Like’ on an Instagram photo is not a measure of your self-worth,” I said. “Even if no one likes your photo, you are still unique, beautiful, and worthy. You were created to do amazing things. Don’t let a social media post steal your joy or define who you are.”
I wish I could say that my words and the time we spent together that day made the students forget about their insecurities and start to love the image they see in the mirror, but I can’t. The teenage years are fraught with body-image and self-esteem issues and the prevalence of social media only exacerbates these problems. Several of my students still view themselves negatively because they compare themselves with the perfect images they are constantly bombarded with. But I continue to encourage them, build up their self-confidence, and point out their strengths and talents because I know that kids thrive when they don’t give others power over them.
I encourage parents to learn all they about social media and pay attention to how your kids are using it. You have the power to show them, through your words and your actions, that their self-worth is not tied to a “Like.” Instead, it blossoms from the beauty and confidence that resides within their souls.
Join the conversation: How do you help your kids battle the negative effects of social media?