Updated: Oct 6, 2019
In this day and age social media is constantly at our fingertips. Children are gaining access to technology younger and younger allowing them to join the "online world". Many people have strong opinions on whether or not young children should have access to technology, but at this point it seems inevitable. That is why it is important as a parent, especially a parent of a child with a mental, emotional, social, or behavioral difficulty to have a serious conversation regarding social media with your child. We, at PA Parent and Family Alliance want to give you some tools and talking points about how social media can be dangerous for children, and how to advise them to use it in a productive and positive way.
Nearly EVERYTHING is edited
Young adults are constantly scrolling past "perfect" bodies, bleach white teeth, and long flowing hair. What they don't know is that many of these "instagram models" are battling eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and even if they do have society's ideal body, they are still spending countless hours editing their faces, and bodies to gain more likes. This can be incredibly toxic for your child to view and not understand just how edited, and more often than not, miserable, these people are. Remind them that nothing and nobody is perfect, and even the highest paid model in the biggest campaign in the world is photoshopped, so comparisons to themselves is unfair. Bad self esteem, and body image issues can impact your child's mental health in extreme ways and letting them know that they are beautiful is essential. What is even more essential is letting them know that being beautiful is the least interesting thing about them. Tell them how smart they are, how good of a sibling they are, how good they are with animals; anything that has nothing to do with how they look. In a social media, and appearance driven world we need to remind our children that almost everything they see is edited, and they don't need to fit into society's beauty ideal to be an amazing and gorgeous person.
Remember social media is a highlight reel
Nobody ever posts a bad hair day. Nobody writes a status letting their friends and family know they failed a test. Social media, to it's core, is a highlight reel. People are only posting images where they look their best, and are doing fun things. It can be easy for your child to get wrapped up in the accomplishments and lifestyle of those around them. What they can't see is the person who just went on a week long beach vacation is failing math class, or the girl who just got accepted to a really good school has a tough home life. By only seeing the perfectly staged and captured moments of other people's lives they can begin to think that that person is always like that. This can cause a warped perspective that they are not as pretty, or as cool as other people online. Remind your child that if they, themselves, are not posting "the not perfect stuff" nobody else is either. Tell them that someone's social media page is not a full representation of the person they are and the life they lead so the comparisons should stop.
"Need" for likes
Social media has created a platform where people get instant validation. It can become almost addictive for some people and they crave more and more likes and followers. This could potentially be very toxic for your child and they might start to feel the like their self worth is linked to how many people liked their last photo. Instilling your child with high self worth is a goal for every parent, and it can come in handy when dealing with the pressure of social media. Tell your child that you are proud of the person they are, and that how many random people like the selfie they just posted has absolutely no importance in their life. Again remind them how many redeeming qualities they have and how they could never capture their unique personality and energy in one square image.
Unfollow the toxic accounts and follow inspiring ones
This can be a preventative tool for your child to use. In order to not run the risk of dangerous comparisons show them that the accounts they follow can change their outlook. It can be tempting to follow the perfectly curated and aesthetic accounts, but they are just simply not realistic. Go through the list of people your child is following and ask them "how does this person, and their content make you feel?". If you get answers like; jealous, bad, or ugly; the unfollow button is right there. If you get answers like; "they make me laugh", or "their posts inspire me" encourage your child to not only continue following them, but follow more accounts of a similar nature. This not only offers and opportunity to bond with your child but also now whenever they open up their social media pages they are scrolling past people and images that give them positive feelings, rather than negative ones.
Turn off your phone and live your life!
Social media can be a good outlet for your child to express themselves and stay connected to their peers but make sure they know it is not their entire world. Too many people put more of an emphasis on creating their online persona than enjoying their real lives. Encourage social media free trips or days where you can connect as a family and they don't have to think about comparing themselves to anyone else. As always, remind your child that they are so much more than how people see them online and life can be more fulfilling if they stop focusing on social media. Chances are your child could spend their entire adult life looking at a screen, make them put it down while they can and enjoy every ounce of childhood.
As a parent social media can connect you with a community of other parents who make you feel less alone. Our organization's social media pages, or organizations like us, offer a space where you can hear from other families who might be struggling in similar ways and make you feel less like things are out of control. Connecting people and creating online communities is a beautiful way that technology has merged with humanity. However, this does not stop you from getting a pit in your stomach when you see a parent on social media who makes their children 5 star meals, has a full time job, and manages to never have a wrinkle on any of their clothes, ever. This feeling is what your child goes through on a daily basis but times 1,000 because everyone they know is an avid social media user. Encouraging your child to not only practice safe and smart social media use, but also mentally smart social media use can make a huge difference in your child's mental health. Ready or not the technology era is upon us, but you can do everything you can to make sure it benefits your child/children in a positive way, not tears them down.
If you want some inspiration on positive accounts for you or your child to follow see the list below: