Curated collections are the hottest trend in almost every industry these days, and frankly, it’s a pretty sweet feature of our technology-centric lifestyle. At any time, we can find the perfect mix of music on Spotify or the next binge-worthy show on Netflix based on a few simple preference settings and our user history. We can hop online and browse clothes, gifts and goodies that have been carefully selected and grouped together for our purchasing pleasure. Pretty convenient, no? Essentially, curated collections have streamlined our daily routines and ultimately improved our quality of life.
With one MAJOR exception.
For the record, as an active user of social media myself, I admit to experiencing a wide variety of positive benefits firsthand. Social media presents a platform through which to express our opinions and creativity, to stay connected with those near and far, and to engage with groups and communities we find stimulating.
But it also enables us to construct an identity over which we have total control.
This carefully curated version of ourselves typically highlights the best of the best, and nothing is sacred: outfits, vacations, promotions, acceptances, parties, houses, food… Rarely do we see a post that accentuates the average, the typical, the banal. Instead, we cherry pick the moments that, when taken together, create the illusion that we are living the fabulous life, the envious life, the “perfect” life.
These moments are very real, of course, so it’s not to say that we are portraying something fake. But we edit our lives so as to eliminate any trace of struggle, pain or suffering—the single human condition that truly unites us all—which ultimately eradicates the potential for real authenticity.
This might seem fairly harmless, but the truth is teens (and often adults, too) are not able to see these curated collections for what they are, and wind up feeling like they can’t measure up. In fact, several research studies indicate that envy and depression are common side effects of social media use.
With my clients, I call this cycle Compare and Despair:
We compare our normal (i.e. imperfect and flawed) selves to the perfectly curated social media version of someone else, and wind up feeling inadequate. Everyone else seems to be having more fun, accomplishing more goals and going to better places while we just sit and watch passively from our boring bedrooms. But we’re terrified to feel disconnected or to miss out on what everyone around us is doing, so we continue to engage with social media despite its damaging effects. It’s a vicious cycle and our teens desperately need help in learning how to manage it.
Social media is most definitely here to stay, and as parents, it is your J.O.B. to teach your kids how to create and maintain healthy boundaries for themselves. Here are a few tips to help you and your kids achieve a better balance:
- Explain the Compare and Despair Cycle: Kids don’t always understand that there tends to be a giant gap between the “social media self” and “the real self.” Help them to understand the dangers of comparing themselves to the perfectly curated social media versions of people and remember what you know to be true: everyone has average, boring or painful experiences too.
- Deepen Your Awareness: Kids are so accustomed to living online that they often don’t take the time to assess how they feel after engaging with social media. Try keeping a log for a day or two and pay close attention to your feelings after scrolling through profiles and snap stories: are you motivated, inspired and uplifted or are you jealous, insecure and unhappy?
- Set Limits for Social Media Time: Now that summer is upon us, I have clients who literally have nothing better to do than sit on social media all. day. long. This is NOT OK. Encourage your kids to carve out small windows of time for quick social media checks as opposed to constant engagement. And, if they can’t reign themselves in, well, the app has got to go!
- Make Real Life Plans: Watching from afar doesn’t hold a candle to actually spending quality time with friends. Having positive, secure relationships is strongly associated with high levels of self-esteem and resiliency while fostering feelings of connectedness and decreasing depression and anxiety. Help your kids to set up activities and play dates so they reap the rewards of real-life engagement.
- Encourage Authenticity: Because our culture values perfection and success more than anything, it’s difficult to be honest when life is less than stellar. Reiterate to your kids that ups and downs are a natural part of life, and it’s important to acknowledge the downs as much as the ups. Perhaps not publicly on social media, but there is tremendous value in being real, honest and authentic about life’s inherent challenges.