I hear that social media and particularly instagram is making children and teenagers more anxious than ever. It’s been blamed for causing a rise in eating disorders, anxiety attacks and cyber bullying and shaming.
I’m not even surprised!
As part of the generation who only got this huge RANGE of social media tools in our late teens, I can only imagine how hard it is as a 12 or 13 year old, still working out who you are, to be constantly surrounded by images of “perfect” lives, toned and tanned bodies, beautiful homes, lavish holidays and “relationship goals”… it was overwhelming enough and caused enough school tension and drama having 1 hour’s access to MSN a night at that age!
Yet I sort of feel the issue extends to all of us, whatever age we are. Perhaps not to the same extent as for those younger girls in particular, but certainly in the same anxiety-provoking way.
There’s something quite sinister about always knowing what your peers are doing. It’s very unnatural, we aren’t meant to have that level of insight into other people’s lives. And our minds can’t cope, no matter how old or mature we are, there’s a part of us that’s deeply intrigued yet deeply disturbed by seeing photos and statuses of those people we vaguely know.
I’ve heard my adult peers pass critical judgment on the entire lives of school friends we no longer have contact with based on their various instagram posts.
I’ve seen my technologically-challenged parents open up Facebook following a number of emails from their middle-aged friends, create an account and spent a good half an hour scrolling through the ‘suggested friends’ list making critiques of all their profile pictures!
It’s addictive, it is – no matter what we tell ourselves!
But here’s why such an addiction is particularly troubling (and I’m not going to get into the whole ‘fake lives’ and photoshopping debates):
We cannot help but compare ourselves to these people.
See my other post about the danger of comparing ourselves to others: Quit the comparisons!
I am not advocating deleting all forms of social media. I think it has an incredibly important role to play in connecting us to our peers and to the world, maintaining long distance friendships, cultivating our interests and being a place to share and express views.
However, to move towards a healthier relationship with our social media platforms, we need to change our perception of them:
- Be an active user – don’t passively scroll. Think of all the other millions of better ways you could spend that time! Go on social media to post something yourself, or to actively engage in a conversation – and while you’re there you might see something interesting.
- Turn off notifications – except for particularly important things. That way you only access your social media when you want to, not cause it told you to. You could also delete the phone apps, so that you only use it when at a laptop.
- Ignore the rules. I’m not talking about the user rules like no indecent images or swearing. I’m talking about these silly little rules that some people seem to have created, like the time of day you should update a profile picture, or the amount of instagrams you should post in a day, or the type of caption or status you should write. Just do you, it’s not that serious.
- Embrace the relationships that you have outside of social media. The people that you live with, see regularly, chat to using phone or text or email or letter. Your life is not defined by ‘likes’, and these people like you for real.
Social media can be a wonderful thing. But whatever age we are we need to be concerned about the effect it has on us mentally, and start to change our perceptions of it.