As so much of a young persons social world revolves around their online feeds and connections, it is any wonder that likes and comments soon become a social currency and a reflection of where they see themselves amongst their peers.
Whilst social media has the ability to ignite a flourishing self esteem with glowing comments, hundreds of likes and thousands of followers, it can also have a negative impact. Those same likes, comments and followers can do irreparable damage to a struggling self esteem.
When much of the social networks kids are using are based very much on the visual this can lead to an over representation of aesthetics as the yardstick to popularity. Instagram, snapchat and Tik Tok are some of the popular networks right now and all are based on photos, video and performance. Which is all well and good if you have a good sense of who you are and are not relying on the feedback from these networks to decide your worth. But for many, putting themselves out there can mean they open themselves up to judgement and even ridicule. And even if they get hundreds of likes or lots of lovely comments, it is often the one nasty one they remember the most.
We need kids to know they are worth more than their likes and followers. We need them to know their sense of self is not based on what others, and even strangers, may think of them.
How do we do that in a world that sees kids so attached to their screens and their online social connections?
Well like all things parenting today there is no one simple solution but there are certainly ways we can help ensure that sense of self worth is based on the achievements, the values and the qualities that make each and every child unique.
Build their independence and resilience early
Provide for them opportunities to build their independence, have responsibilities, learn to fail, make mistakes and problem solve when things don’t to go to plan. These skills and the resilience that goes with them, will become invaluable in a world that sees constant comparison, exclusion and the inevitable negative interactions of the online world.
Work on the Shrug
In a world where a lot of peoples actions are out of or control. Where we come together much more globally with all manner of backgrounds, beliefs, values and life experience, it is true that we are not always going to understand the behaviours and words of others. There are certainly times when we need to stand up for ourselves and others and not accept the unfair judgements, aggression or bullying treatment by others. But there are also plenty of times when we just have to raise the shoulders, take a deep breath, drop the shoulders and say to ourselves “not today, not my battle, I’m moving on”. Learning to step away from drama, from people who thrive on drama and from situations where we are unlikely going to have a positive impact, can be a really useful skill to keep young peoples self esteem from taking a beating.
Don’t resort to the ‘in my day we we…”. We may well reminisce about the more carefree days where we got to switch off and hangout with mates in the neighbourhood oblivious to what the rest of the world thought of our latest picture. But it’s not particularly relevant to our kids today. Shutting down their account, turning off their computer and walking away from social media all together, is really not an option for most. Be sure your kids know that you understand the role the technology plays and the challenges they face. That way you put yourself in the best position to have the right conversations and put in place the right boundaries.
Provide other role models and community
Getting involved in outside pursuits and interests away from the screens can help them form connections with other parts of the community. Coaches, youth leaders and other role models can all play a part in mentoring a child to the importance of balance, whilst reminding them that there is a life beyond the screens.
Give them opportunities to help
There is no better way to feel better about oneself than to feel useful. Helping at home, helping in the community and volunteering can be a great way for kids to build that self worth away from the screens. It may be helping coach some kids at the local sports club or getting involved in a cause or issue that matters to them. This helps gives them a sense of purpose that revolves around their actions and their input and not just what others perceive about them.
Regular meals and times where no devices are present can be crucial to providing the stability and security young people need. Mealtimes have been proven to be an effective way of letting kids know they always have a place that is familiar, secure and unconditional. This may not be a reality for every family every night, but trying to incorporate any sense of ritual into a family, even those that may involve the technology, will certainly provide a positive impact.
We know that the technology and the devices are going to continue to play a huge role in the social and emotional lives of our children today. We need to ensure therefore that we are doing all we can to give them the most balanced, true and positive view of themselves that continues to flourish both in real life and online.