Did you know? Teens are more susceptible to the negative impact of social media than other age groups because of two developmental vulnerabilities. Psychotherapist Dr. Erin Leonard explains:
1) Identity formation— because of increased independence, a teen is trying to figure out who they are in the world. Naturally, when they are grappling with this issue, they instinctively compare themselves to others, which is a painful activity because there is always someone prettier, faster, smarter, etc. in the world.
Social media exploits this vulnerability in teens because it is an illusion. It’s a one dimensional snap shot in time that may convey the illusion of a perfect life, but it does not accurately depict reality. For example, the girl who received the perfect prom proposal, might be struggling with a chronic illness that no one is aware of.. The boy that just got the perfect sports car on his 16th birthday, might be secretly struggling with his sexuality.
What a parent can do:
Empathize with the worry about “measuring up” and explain the illusional aspect of social media by saying, “It feels like everyone else has the perfect life. I get that. It’s hard. But, it’s an illusion. Those kids have struggles too.”
“You worry about not being good enough. That’s a big worry. I get it. But, it’s not about what you achieve or what you have, it’s about who you are, and you are a good person.”
Tip- always empathize with the feelings before reassuring or problem solving.
2) Peer Acceptance- because of increased independence, teens rely heavily on their peers for validation about who they are. This need can become a problem when they see their friends getting together or doing things without them on social media. The teen may feel extremely hurt and left out.
What A Parent Can Do:
Empathize with feeling left out, and let them know it’s happened to you too, then, remind them of the good friends they do have. For example, “It hurts to feel left out. I understand. I felt exactly like that when I was 16. How about calling Rachel? She seems like she might like to hang out tonight. Maybe I can take you guys out for some pizza.”
Tip: Parents should monitor social media and watch for cyber bullying. Because teenagers brains are more impulsive than at any other time in the lifespan, the risk of them being bullied heightens the chance they’ll do something impulsive when they are hurting.
You can find more information on how to be a parent your child and teen want to talk to in Dr. Leonard’s new book, “How To Raise A Secure Child, Parenting With Empathy.”