I was interviewed for Today.com about “selfies,” photos we take of ourselves and then post online usually to see how many “likes” and positive comments it garners. While we know celebrities do it (Miley Cyrus ranks #1 for number of selfies on twitter)– why are teens turning to posting selfies for public satisfaction?
Teens are defining themselves during adolescence. They are figuring out where they fit into their social world and hoping that others look at them favorably. We know teens compare themselves to others constantly and social media provides immediate information about how they stack up. It can be a dangerous practice– after all, who are these people who are providing the feedback?
Many teens boast hundreds or thousands of “friends” and connections. Stepping back, we know that these people aren’t much more than momentary acquaintances who many of the teens might not even know if they walked passed them at the mall. Still, there opinions somehow matter, even though they shouldn’t.
Depending on the type of feedback provided, the teen will often have a reflective mood. Positive feedback like “you’re gorgeous!” and “Love this!” or even “you’re so hot!” can put someone in a great mood while ugly comments about weight and appearance can lead to frustration, sadness, anger and overall hurt feelings.
So what can parents, educators and mentors do to help teens?
(1) Start early: Talk to your children about media messaging, social media and our society’s warped view of women’s looks over all else. Make sure your children understand that these are not your values. Expose the beauty myths and help your children understand what really matters.
(2) Distinguish the voices that really make a difference: There are many voices out there– who should your child listen to for feedback and validation? Help them choose the people they should trust and help them to diminish the importance of others in their own minds, whose opinions should not be given so much weight.
“Social media is a virtual talking mirror that contains irrelevant voices,” Silverman says. “Parents should help teens pinpoint meaningful sources for validation. More importantly parents need to reinforce the idea that the most influential voice should come from within.”
(3) Talk about strengths: What are your children’s true gifts? Make sure your children understand that their strengths such as their kind heart, curious nature, musical ability, athletic competence, writing prowess, etc, are recognized and really make a difference.
(4) Discuss character: Talk to your children and teens about what truly makes a person– respect for others, courage to stand up, determination to keep going– is what truly matters in the long run. Basing your mood or your self worth on how others view your latest photo sells yourself short.
Of course, while this article talks about teens– we know that adults look to the internet for validation too. I received an email just today from someone who read my article and said; “if truth be told, I too check my FB for likes.” Yes; likes feel good. But consider the source and remember, the number of likes has nothing to do with how much you’re worth.