Your Inside vs Everyone’s Outside – How Social Media is Influencing Teens’ Self-worth
We are often tempted to compare the full story of our lives with half the story of others’ lives. Upon reaching adulthood, most people have experienced the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses or the longing to belong within a certain social group. The pressure to present ourselves as flawless and put together is a common experience in American culture. This pressure to be perfect may be a contributor to the rise of mental health issues such as perfectionism, anxiety and depression.
It’s not uncommon that people experience a lack of positive self-worth. Low self-worth may be a result of negative experiences and relationships, but it also can be driven by a constant comparison to others. Perhaps this quest for perfection and social status is most prominent in the teenage years. Though the temptation to gauge one’s self worth in relation to others’ achievements and successes isn’t new, it seems that our current cultural context is creating a deeper sense of failure and shame amongst teens today.
The social culture of teens is largely influenced by their presence on social media. Everyday teenagers are bombarded with the seemingly “visual perfection” of others that they themselves are seeking after. As a teen scrolls through their Instagram or Snapchat account, they inadvertently receive the message that their peers are indeed, perfect. Long gone are the days where the movie stars or the popular kids at school are the few that seem to pull off perfection. In the social media world, almost everyone starts to look like they’ve got perfection nailed.
Think about it, behind the scenes of the making of a selfie, most people take multiple photos before choosing the best one. Once they’ve chosen, they edit and filter the photo. I once noticed two girls taking a selfie in a bathroom. Through the lens of the filtered photo, it seemed like their night was perfect in every way. The reality? They were standing in line in the bathroom…. it was the most regular of life moments.
One danger of this new phenomenon is that we might not notice when teenagers are experiencing mental health issues. From the vantage point of their social media accounts it looks like they are having the best life and are always happy. When in reality, behind the photos, the unfiltered story is a different reality. Just because a teen seems happy on their social media doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering from anxiety and/or depression. Teens may also be experiencing a higher rate of low self-worth, depression and anxiety because they are comparing their insides (their failures, insecurities and imperfections) with everyone else’s seemingly perfect outsides. It creates an anxious space of constant comparison and can cause a low value of self.
Not every teen is going to be experiencing severe mental health issues, but at the very least they still have their bad days, their insecurities and various stressors. Asking you to consider the influence of social media in your life or the life of a loved one isn’t meant to instill fear, but rather to start the conversation. As therapists we value helping families connect and we encourage individuals to have a healthy value of self. Starting the conversation about how social media can affect a teen’s self-value can help them gain insight into how to filter the messages of perfection they are receiving.
It is important to check in with your teenager regularly to know both the highlights and struggles they currently face. Try to keep track of any warning signs that may show symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, even when your teens pictures online seem upbeat and positive. Note these following concerning symptoms:
● Change in Normal Function: Has there been a change in your teen’s ability to function as they normally would?
● Loss of Pleasure: Is your teen pulling away from activities they once enjoyed? Do they seem to be just going through the motions?
● Expressions of Hopelessness: Are you hearing your teen making statements of low self-worth or questioning their value and abilities?
If you are concerned about your child’s social media use, low self-worth or possible symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors.