Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about the effects of social media, which seem to range from making us jealous to making us suicidal. We’ve read about teens who see Instagram pictures of their happy and carefree friends, and then turn around and kill themselves because they don’t feel happy and carefree. We hear about adults sinking into depression because their lives don’t reflect the glamorous, world traveling, spouse-loving, Leave It To Beaver families they follow on Facebook. We remind ourselves and each other that pictures on social media are about people showing us what they want us to see, what they want us to believe about their lives, that Facebook truth isn’t real truth, that Instagram happiness isn’t true joy. But regardless of these reminders, we find ourselves believing wholeheartedly in the pictures we see before us.
If you think it’s bad for adults who have the advantage of years and experience behind them, imagine what it’s like for teens. It’s especially hard for this age group to recognize the difference between social media image and hard, cold reality. When you’re raised on ten seasons of Keeping up with the Kardashians, you come to believe that image is everything, that a good selfie can change your world, and that without money, you’re nothing.
That’s why you need to model the behavior you hope to see in your kids when it comes to what you post, how much time you spend online, and how much value you place on other people’s posts and photos. For instance, aside from a few rookie mistakes I made when I first discovered Facebook, I quickly discovered that my posts are forever and that I need to be mindful of what I put out there for the world to see. My kids know that there are things I’ll never talk about on social media because I consider those issues to be polarizing and divisive, and the world doesn’t need anymore of that. They also know that I won’t post personal family matters, intimate details about my life, inappropriate photos, or anything that would embarrass them. As a result, they’ve mostly followed my lead. So while they’re inundated with a culture that preaches superficiality and materialism, they’re learning that what’s really important is treating social media with responsibility and monitoring the message they send to the world about themselves.
Teach your kids that in social media – just like in life – they should always take the high road. They should never attack another person from a keyboard. They should never post a photo they wouldn’t mind their grandparents seeing. They should use proper English and good language that wouldn’t insult their English teacher or their preacher. They should use social media as a way to connect with friends and send positivity into the world to counteract all the “crap” being put out there by less astute kids. And they should always remember that while online image is a facade, it still tells the world something about them. They need to decide what image they want to present and think about whether that image truly conveys who they are.