Our teenagers are growing up in a world quite different to the one that we encountered at the same age. With the invention of social media, I’ve seen the worrying trend of my teenage daughters and their friends, judging their worth based upon the number of ‘friends’/followers that they have on social media. They are constantly assessing whether photos or comments posted are rating well, expecting them to reach an acceptable level of likes in a certain amount of time. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself! As if being a teenager isn’t already fraught with insecurity, imagine getting instant results on how popular or likeable your posts are.
I once saw a girl on social media comment that a selfy with a sarcastic comment about her looks had got minimal likes while a picture of pizza had scored more highly. I commented to the girl that her perception was a bit skewed. If lots of people liked the photo where she basically called herself ugly then she would have thought that they agreed with her. I told her that obviously her friends wouldn’t agree with that comment, therefore wouldn’t have liked it, while everyone loves a good slice of pizza!
One of the incentives to have a large number of followers on social media seems to be the associated perks. My daughter’s friend has around 15,000 followers and is constantly being sent free clothing and merchandise, being asked to tag the retailers in her photos. As is to be expected, where there is love there is hate. Whilst the majority of people like her and are positive, there are the haters that are rude and mean in their comments. No person wants to hear cruel words aimed at them, particularly for doing something as mundane as posting a photo.
I’ve always told my kids to only accept requests on social media from people who are their friends. I think a good litmus test is to ask yourself whether you would cross the street to talk to a person – if you would, then accept their friendship request, if not then why would you want to invite them into your personal world? Unfortunately, although these are my beliefs, teens have a different perception. Their worth is linked to the number of followers, and in turn the number of likes their posts receive, so whether their mother has lectured them on safety in social media, they are more concerned with perceived popularity than cyber safety.
As a parent you can’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to changing technology, but rather you should try to embrace it. I’m an advocate of having your kids as friends on social media and having their log in details (although I’m not that naïve to know that if they choose to have privacy as they get older, it won’t take them much to change their passwords or block a parent). I don’t have any definitive answers as to what we can do to make sure our kids cherish their real friends and put less emphasis on social media, but I’m monitoring the kids to try to keep them safe and to try to let them know that a person’s worth can’t be accounted for by the number of likes on a photo.
Do you have any advice on managing social media?
(Image courtesy of master isolated images, freedigitalphotos.net)