Social media has connected us with others in ways we never imagined years ago. On the positive side, we can stay connected with friends easily, get back in touch with old school mates, see what is happening around the world, share our news and have a laugh when we are bored. We can use it as a great tool to access resources, gain information, connect with like-minded people and grow business.
For many, social media is a small part of their lives and they retain perspective around the role of social media and what they see on there.
For others, most significantly our teenagers, but adults too at times, social media can have a devastatingly negative impact on their self-esteem. I work with this every day and it is a tough one to navigate as there is almost an addiction to these apps and so they don’t want to change how they use them.
For those of us who have healthy self-esteem, a glance at Facebook, for example, may be a moment of downtime where we read a funny article, see what our friends have been doing or a quick catch up with our favourite group. Then we go back to our real world and keep balance.
For someone with fragile self-esteem, or someone still finding their identity (teenagers), a quick glance at Facebook can cause a big moment of self-doubt, sadness, discontent with their own lives, self-hatred, jealousy, hurt, anger and many other negative emotions. They don’t keep the perspective that they need to have a healthy relationship with social media.
All of us post the “highlight reel” of our lives for others to see. If you were to look at my personal Facebook page, I don’t actually post much, but what you will see is me at the soccer, me on holidays with my kids, me bushwalking with my dogs. What you won’t see is the other twenty something hours in my day where I was working, picking up dog poo, doing the kids washing, cooking dinner, vacuuming etc. You will only see the highlight reel.
Now for someone who is content with their life and their self-esteem is good, they will think, “that’s cool, Sharon is enjoying herself’, or something along those lines. Then they will go back to their own lives.
For someone who is not sure of themselves, they may look at it and wonder why their life is not as good as mine. They only focus on what I am posting, not on what the rest of my life looks like.
I often joke with my kids that I will start an Instagram page that shows my real life. They have suggested that will be completely boring and have no followers. Interesting statement that. My real life would be too boring. And yet, unless you are one of the few fortunate who travel the world with adventure after adventure, most of us have those ‘boring’ lives. I prefer to think of it as ‘real’ as opposed to boring. Real life is fine it seems unless it is online.
Another example of perspective. I have an old client, long ago, who was having an affair. The affair had been going on for many years. She was very unhappy in her marriage, had decided to stay for the kids and the finances. What she posted online however, was very different to her real life. Online, she regularly posted affirmations about her husband and their relationship and how great it was. She didn’t say this, but she would show them together at dinner, at a show, out and about living a seemingly wonderful life. She would go over the top with love posts on his birthday and anniversary. Those around her were jealous of her relationship and how lucky she was. It was in fact a horrible relationship filled with lies and deceit. Nothing real here but it had an impact on those viewing this seemingly perfect life.
Another problem I see often, is the prevalence of ‘Influencers’ or ‘Instagram models’, who have managed to market themselves and gain a huge following. Whilst some of these people are genuine and provide a positive influence, there are many who are not. Some have mental health issues, some have eating disorders, some are presenting a false image or message. Some are just not nice humans. And yet, they are great at marketing and have our teens tracking their every move as though they have the answers to everything. These people, with no credentials other than marketing skills, have become mentors or heroes to our kids.
This, as both a parent and counsellor, is terrifying. Our kid’s self-worth is being impacted in a big way by people we don’t know and very likely wouldn’t respect as role models. We very likely wouldn’t choose to have these people in our kids lives. But they are there. Having a bigger role than we realise.
Obviously, there are some great people online providing wonderful material. But, we don’t know if what people post is real or a distorted view and yet many people will judge their own lives by the seemingly great lives of others.
One of the big issues then with social media is keeping perspective. When our kids are absorbed within this world for hours, we have a problem. They start to lose the ability to distinguish between the real world and the social media world.
How as parents, do we keep our kid’s self-esteem on track and still let them feel they belong? This can be a tough road to navigate. We somehow need to find a balance between allowing access to these sites and keeping ‘normal’ life in balance. Talking to our kids about what is real and what is not. Not just once, but repeatedly, so they start to learn how to keep perspective about what is real. This needs to be an ongoing conversation with our kids.
How do we, as an individual, keep our own self-esteem on track with the prevalence of social media?
- Be aware of how much time you spend on social media.
- Set limits for yourself. Make sure you have time where you aren’t looking at it.
- Work towards creating a real life that you are content with.
- Be aware of sites, or people, that leave you feeling worse about yourself and perhaps stop looking at them.
This is still an emerging issue with no definite solution. If you feel stuck, reach out for some guidance before you get caught up in this virtual world.