After a talk, a parent asked if I had any advice pitched at teenagers themselves about how (and why) to moderate and control screen and social media use in response to the problems of low self-esteem exacerbated (or even created) by certain behaviours on social media. I said I’d pick out some suitable materials. The teenager in question is a 16yo girl and this is my advice. Of course, once LIFE ONLINE is published, the advice will be simple: read it!
Some of you might want the research to show just how much self-esteem might be damaged but I’d say two things about that: first, the research isn’t strong in terms of statistics. The studies that there are (and you’ll find some of them in the Core Resources for the Life Online section of my site) are often small scale and/or usually looking at one very specific aspect and one type of screen use. They would not necessarily be classed as scientifically robust. But, second, I don’t actually think stats are relevant or interesting in this case anyway. What’s important is that some people, including and perhaps especially young people, do find their self-esteem damaged. Some people do feel really low after the things they read and the experiences they have on social media. How many and by how much is hardly the point. If you’re suffering or seeing someone you love suffering, that’s what’s important, not how common or rare it is.
Anyway, I’d recommend that she (daughter and mother, if possible) read The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost and possibly Sex, Likes and Social Media: Talking to our teens in the digital age by Allison Havey and Deanna Puccio.
I’d also recommend that they discuss my (in progress) Six Steps to Online Wellbeing Pledge, especially the first point, which is the only one I have completely decided on!
I’d point them towards my resources for Life Online.
I’d say, always remember:
- The “online disinhibition effect” means that many/most people are less careful, less inhibited and less caring online than face to face. This means people are likely to be meaner and to fail properly to recognise the hurt they cause. We say something careless and walk away without noticing someone’s face fall.
- People put their “best stuff” online when they post about their holiday, their party, their relationship. It’s what we’re all driven to do: show the world our best face. And then we see other people do it and we think “my life isn’t like that – I must be a loser”. Think about the wrongness of this. Everyone’s life is a mixture of ordinariness with flashes of sparkle. They are showing you the sparkly bits and you’re comparing that to your ordinary bits.
- People but their best selfies up there, too. Do you know why there are no selfies of me anywhere in the world? Because I’ve never yet managed to create one I liked. I’ve given up! But people spend a fortune on make-up or apps and spend hours getting the perfect selfies to put up there. It’s supremely artificial and we need to remember that.
- People “liking” your posts means only that they bothered to flick a finger in your direction. Does that really matter? OK, I admit that if no one liked a post of mine I’d feel a bit meh. And if loads liked it, I’d be happy for a few moments. But I’d quickly put this in perspective: will it matter in two days’ time? Does it make me a good person? Does it make me successful or worthy? Really? Of course it doesn’t! It’s all entertainment!
- BUT, I think it’s worth talking about. Talk to your close and trusted friends. How do they feel? They probably feel the same. Perhaps you can all help each other.
- The healthiest thing to do is very often to walk away from whatever’s going on and go and do something else. Do you really want so many hours, days and months of your youth spent fretting about online competition and misery and stress? There’s a world out there and it’s for you to find and grab! Your post or picture on social media won’t achieve anything except a temporary mood swing. Bit like eating a piece of chocolate
Here are four times when I think NONE of us should be on our phones or other devices:
- From an hour and a half before bedtime till it’s time to get up in the morning
- When someone wants to talk to us (Parents, I’m looking at you)
- When being on our phone/social media is making us feel bad or sad – just switch it off
Lowering of self-esteem is not the only reason to be careful about our smartphone and social media use. There’s distraction, exhaustion, info-overload, addiction, fake news, raising anxiety, lowering mood from repeated sad stories, loss of conversation skills, and more. But the attack on our self-esteem, especially when we are young and more vulnerable, is very important and worth talking about.
And that’s the other thing: talk. These are common experiences, not just for young people. I know people my age who talk of how demoralising it is seeing everyone’s perfect lives when yours doesn’t feel perfect. We are pretty much all in this together, adults and teenagers, anyone who has chosen to enter this vast, wonderful, tempting sweetshop in the sky. But too many sweets are never a good idea.
Social networking is wonderful and brings huge benefits. There’s also evidence (and it makes sense) that being disconnected from the online world completely brings disadvantages, too. I talk about the benefits a lot in LIFE ONLINE. But it also brings pitfalls. If we know those, we can start to avoid them.
So, know the problems; talk about them; and help each other deal with them.