“I put this awesome status and then no one ever likes or comments on it!” “Everyone ignores me on Facebook. It’s like I’m invisible.” “I can’t believe he defriended me. This is the most humiliating thing ever.” Have you ever heard that in your work with teens? Or how about, “Every time I post something, somebody makes a comment that I know everyone else is laughing about.” Then, there’s the sometimes more disturbing case of Twitter, “Everyone retweets my stuff, people I don’t even know think I’m great!” “I have lots of followers, lots of guys who think I’m beautiful and they tell me every day.”
The weight adolescents place on social media popularity is exceedingly high. In many ways, it feels even more affecting than one-on-one interactions with others. After all, this time their popularity factor is in black and white and not always shared silently. When an already tense teen is struggling with self-value, I have seen a troubling cycle with social media, heightened and weighted by private logic that is not based in accuracy or truth but that is critically real, based on their perception. A post, tweet, comment, or “like,” to one who seeks worth from external sources, is like gold. What happens next is a cycle of obsessive checking, validation, positive or negative affirmation, and disappointment or relief. In real life, this translates to behavioral actions like hypervigilance of posts, uncontrollable refreshing of devices, tearfulness, isolation, and constant comparisons.
I have been working for a long time on helping young tweens and teens make the shift in perception that social media is not the barometer of their self-worth. But our young ones believe it is, whether painfully destroying it or falsely uplifting it. Unimaginable outcomes are being publicized about the role social media can have with this vulnerable population, and we, as helpers and parents, are charged with trying to do something about it.
Admittedly, I have struggled with a response. Social media is here to stay, and we cannot avoid it. Yet the lack of having an account can be more stigmatizing. I began to wonder, was there a way to work with it without removing the teen’s accounts and therefore possibly creating additional pain? While not foolproof, I started on a step to something that seems to be helping, at least a little bit. Instead of removing kids from social media entirely until their spirits have grown stronger in self (which is, I will add, an option that I always consider), what if we could help them to start filtering each post through a different lens? What if they had a tool that could help them evaluate a post for its positivity factor?
From this, SELF was born. SELF is based on the popular wisdom of THINK before you speak (is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?). I have encouraged my clients to use this not only for posts they make, but for every post they read, and right now, there is a favorable response by the many in my practice who provide me with regular examples of how they are using it and how it helped (or didn’t).
When reading or writing a post, or inferring value in a comment (especially from Facebook), I ask them this:
S – is it supportive or slanderous?
E – is it encouraging or enraging/evil/egotistical (the girls like all 3)?
L – is it loving or low?
F – is it friendly or failing to be?
Finally, we evaluate together, asking “Does the outcome of this mini-assessment, and your feelings about yourself, help you to become the person you want to be?” Note that this is not necessarily the person they believe themselves to be in that given moment.
There is much favorable response from the teens on this, indicating it seems to offer an anchor of reason when they are feeling less than rational. As for the number of likes, retweets, and replies, that is still a work in progress. A first step there is providing the teens with a card bearing a mantra I wrote; on one side, it states “Framing Facebook,” and on the other, “No likes? No shares? No cares.”
I share these tips with you not as an ultimate solution but as a starting point. It is not intended to heal all, nor do I expect that it can. It is a step, and it is one the teens have been willing to take, apply, and learn from. A step becomes movement, movement becomes a journey, and a journey requires tools. Therapists and teens alike, we can always use another tool for the walk!
This is certainly an issue that has multiple contributing factors, and pages could be written about the culture of social media and its influence on our children. However, for the time being, I am most interested in providing some immediate relief and finding a way to lessen the harshness of self-degredation and reliance on other’s opinions for value. Until that time, we are going to THINK about SELF, and we are going to practice “No likes, no shares, no cares!” and help them make the shift into self-compassion and internal valuing of spirit. I hope that this is a tool that you find easy and helpful to carry as well.
Blessings of self-compassion to you all.
Increasing Children’s Self-Esteem
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cherie L. Spehar, LCSW, CTC-S, RPT-S, therapist in Apex, North Carolina
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