At its roots, social media was meant to be an online platform for creating networks, communities, and collectives to share information, messages, ideas, and photos or videos.
And while it’s used for those positive things every day–with approximately 2.62 billion social media users around the world– it is also a breeding ground for “social comparison.”
“Social comparison theory states that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others. People sometimes compare themselves to others as a way of fostering self-improvement, self-motivation, and a positive self-image. As a result, humans constantly evaluate themselves, and others, across domains such as attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success.”
Jessica Abo, an award-winning journalist and author of Unfiltered: How to Be as Happy as You Look on Social Media, refers to this as the “Compare and Despair Trap.”
Tips For Managing Your Kids’ Social Media Intake
To help your kids enjoy the connectedness of social media without damaging their mental health, follow these tips.
1. Stay Informed
Social Media is constantly changing, so it’s a good idea to keep up to date with which apps are appropriate for your child. Here are some of the most popular ones that children and teens are using right now:
2. Monitor Privacy Settings
Once your child is at an age where you have allowed them to create social media accounts, it’s important to make sure they keep their accounts private and their privacy settings updated. You should have access to all their account information so you can set their privacy to the maximum setting and ensure their content is hidden from anyone who might try to misuse it.
3. Set Guidelines/Rules for Social Media
This should be a team effort. By involving your child in the setting of the rules, it lessens the likelihood of them sneaking around behind your back or setting up fake accounts to get around the rules. You want to instill healthy/positive social media habits right from the start so they feel empowered to make good decisions without you watching over their shoulder.
4. Keep an Open Dialogue
You can’t monitor your child’s social media activity 24/7, (nor should you), so it’s important to communicate regularly with your child about what’s going on in their online world. Ask questions and pay attention to what they’re saying. What are they posting about? Why are they choosing to post that? What are their friends posting? How does that make them feel? If your child is showing signs of stress or anxiety when talking about social media, it’s important to address it.
5. Empathize with Them
You might not be able to relate to the disappointment of your first TikTok dance not going viral, or your crush liking your best friend’s latest Instagram picture, but you have felt left out and let down before. Don’t dismiss their feelings around social media as if they don’t matter, because, to them, it’s sometimes all that matters. Share with them about a similar situation and hopefully the lesson you learned or growth you experienced because of what you went through.
6. Set Aside Tech-Free Time
You can say this is for your screen obsessed teen, but the reality is we are all addicted to different forms of social media. Model a healthy relationship with your devices by creating some real life face time as a family every day. This is a great opportunity to check in with each other and ease some of the stress and anxiety that can come from checking your phone every five seconds.