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Self esteem and the online world: More than likes and followers

Are likes, followers, shares and comments the new currency for self esteem? Must every child’s friendship be legitimised with a selfie proclaiming BFF status? Are kids placing their very self worth on the accumulation of affirming ‘friends’ they have neither seen nor spoken to?

With our kids relying increasingly on social networking sites for much of their socialisation, connection and sense of belonging, it appears that for many kids, too much of their self worth is being hinged on their online popularity. Nothing knew of course. Kids have always wanted to belong, to be popular and to be liked. That hasn’t altered. But of course with this new playing field, the medium and scope of people they need to be ‘liked’ by has certainly changed.

Maybe it is adults themselves who are fuelling this with their own need to seek out constant affirmation? With their retelling of every emotion, photographing of every meal, describing every whinge, success, thought and daily trials in great detail to be consumed and affirmed by others? If so, it would seem that our kids havn’t become more narcissistic as is the common belief, but instead it is something we have always craved, only now we have the means to get attention more quickly and from a vastly greater audience.

Recently I had someone tell me about their daughters best friend not speaking to her daughter as she had failed to comment on a picture of the two of them together. This neglect to scroll through her feed over a 2 day period was viewed as a dismissal of the relationship. The lack of a ‘like’ resulted in the near disintegration of a schoolgirl friendship. This friend obviously didn’t have the confidence in their relationship to think she may have just neglected to check that particular feed, nor the skills to speak to her friend first to see if everything was OK.

What we are seeing is a generation, and a generation to come, who are feeling the pressures of keeping up with their online persona. They are becoming exhausted by a constant need to share to be liked, to upload to be followed and to comment to make a statement legitimate.

There are however many adults and children who are not so ruled by this. They have confidence to ignore judgement, resilience to turn a blind eye to the haters, enough achievements outside of the online world to enjoy their pursuits and good solid real life relationships based on mutual respect  and intimacy rather than just the online banter.

This is what we should be aiming for, for all our kids.

Self esteem that supersedes anything that needs validation online. They can use the online space to connect and interact, but it must be with a background of confidence, discipline and resilience. So how do we do this?

We know that praise alone does not help build self esteem. In fact we are finding that a ‘praise only’ mentality is having more detrimental effects to the self esteem of our kids.

Recently Dr Tim Elmore looked further in to this building of self esteem and found that the very best way to build self esteem in our kids requires parents to be both:

1. Responsive: Encouragement, belief, understanding and support.

2. Demanding: Setting standards and holding kids accountable to them.

So as parents we must continue to encourage our kids endeavours whilst praising real achievements. We must give them chores, teach them skills, allow them to take risks and make mistakes. We must make real effort to understand their world so we can help be the support they need and to remain relevant to their lives. We must encourage pursuits that help them shine away from the screens and give them a sense of community and belonging. We must continue to have boundaries in place that demand respect. Respecting others and respecting themselves.

We need them to rely upon themselves, so that anything that happens online is an extension of their life and connections, not the sole source of their self worth.

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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Kathy

    Well said Martine. I really agree with you on the combo of praise with expectations to build resilience in our kids. It does feel very hard to shield them from judging their worth on their online popularity, especially when we adults seek affirmation online. I guess it is reinforcing the real difference between ‘likes’ and genuine connection.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Yes there is a definite difference between ‘likes’ and connection. By nurturing real life relationships hopefully we can keep instilling in them that confidence and connection.

  2. kaz @ melting moments

    Such an interesting topic. I am guilty of checking in to see how many likes and comments I have been given on posts. I pray my girls are confident enough to brush off the haters too :/

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      All about keeping it in perspective isnt it? It is ok to want validation for what we do, we just cant rely on it.

  3. Such a great post. It isreally hard to watch our teen daughter feel her self worth through social media. I am really glad though it has moved away from facebook and and more onto relationship chats which is less public. I worry a lot about our teens the first generation to have to deal with self esteem being tied to social media.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Yep, it is a learning curve for all of us, the teens and parents included.

  4. Emma Fahy Davis

    Miss 11 and some of her friends use Instagram as a by-product of the school’s BYOD programme, and I had her in tears last week because someone had blocked her on Instagram over some trivial little thing. It terrifies me, it really does!

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Yes definitely the downside to being on social network and something we really need to keep working at.

  5. Josefa @always Josefa

    I think as parents we really need to be the ones teaching our children confidence within the context of social media, teaching communication skills that work effectively in social media – protecting them and feeling terrified is one thing, moving past that and being the first line of education, support and encouragement needs to be the next step – great article x Josefa #teamIBOT

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Thanks Josefa. Absolutely, parents must be the leaders in these skills and to do that they must move past the fear!

  6. I think this can also apply to adults and even blogger with blog rolls etc! I hope that once my kids are older things have changed a big in regards to social media, I’m sure FB won’t be the way it is now – I hope!

  7. EssentiallyJess

    Wow Martine, what a great post. I found it uncomfortable but in a good way because I do need to look at the example that I’m setting for my kids. I’m overly concerned with how my page works, but they don’t know that, they just think I care a lot about Facebook, and I don’t want them following my example.
    Thank you.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Thanks Jess, we all need to be made to feel a little uncomfortable sometimes 🙂

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