If social media makes YOU feel insecure, you better believe your kids feel that way, too.
Everywhere you turn, someone is talking about how to keep your children "safe" on social media (with many advising you to keep your kids as far away from social media as possible). I think we're all realizing that social media is here to stay and parents must help their kids navigate the daily maze of emotions that come from their inevitable participation in this generation's social world.
But, that said — maybe it isn't the extreme dangers we need to worry so much about. There is also an array of small, painful "normal" issues that ultimately arise from social media use and those are impacting our children (and their self-esteem) every single day.
Those issues include a heartbroken child who feels inadequate after seeing the constant barrage of bragging "we did this and we are so fabulous" videos on Snapchat. Or, the teenager who posts sexy bikini pictures hourly on Instagram thinking she is attracting nice boys and garnishing respect. Or, the child who is either obsessively on social media and thus, not present in their real life or feeling good about themselves in a concrete way.
Yes, online predators and social media bullying are real issues that warrant your attention, Mom and Dad, but balancing the daily #FOMO, #YOLO, please "like me" world of social media also requires your love and support.
Here are three social media survival tips to help you guide your teens through the murky waters of online social interaction:
1. Don't discount your child's feelings when they feel excluded. Let's be honest — even adults struggle with FOMO (fear of missing out) when they're on Facebook, so why would we expect our children to feel the effects? Listen carefully when your children tell you their feelings, particularly those surrounding social media. Don't judge, don't lecture but instead listen and empathize. Their feelings are perfectly normal!
Suggesting they stay off social media and just not look at it anymore is unlikely to work and leaves your children feeling dismissed as a result, as if you don't really understand them. Instead, ask them open-ended questions: "What about this makes you sad?" "Why are your feelings hurt?" "What can you do about it?"
Empathy (versus problem solving) goes a long way in helping your child come to terms with their feelings and then begin the process of deciding how they want to handle those feelings.
2. Share your own feelings or experiences about feeling left out. Tell your kids ways in which you've learned to handle experiences of feeling excluded and what you've learned from them. We've all felt left out, hurt, alone, etc. It's important to teach your children that these are natural feelings, but not necessarily helpful feelings.
My kids learned that by taking breaks completely away from their technology (phones, laptops, and so on) and doing things that are meaningful and fun, they care far less about what others are doing on social media. They also understand that the kids who document every moment of their "fun day" probably aren't actually having all that much fun. I knew I couldn't ban my children from social media once they're old enough to leave my sight, but I can show them that a busy, engaged life is a joyful one.
3. Ask them how they benefit from their "social show off" behavior. If a child or teenager needs to document each moment of their day, each social interaction, and each thought for others, they're probably struggling with feelings of insecurity and a lack of confidence. Happy, confident kids don't feel the need to constantly prove that they're having fun.
If you're out with friends and you need to stop every couple of minutes to take a Snap chat video, are you really having all that much fun? Ask your child if they are enjoying themselves?
Ask your kids if they have a good, committed friend group or are they actually worried that they're being left out? Do they truly feel better about themselves each time they post something (so others will hopefully envy what they're doing)? If so, that's a very fleeting and miserable happiness.
Social media is here to stay and it's how this generation of children will interact with the world.
Feeling left out is more painful than ever, in that evidence of it ends up plastered all over social media. As rotten as this is for our children, they do ultimately need to face it and learn how to handle their emotions around these issues.
So, keep a solid line of non-judgmental communication open with your child to help them through this new, and rather scary, right of passage.
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach. You can reach her at Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com