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Let's Get Real About Social Media

Helping your kids navigate the risks and rewards safely

Article by Marcey Heschel

Photography by Shannon Valentine

Originally published in Cypress Lifestyle

As a mother and therapist, I have a love/hate relationship with social media.  On one hand I enjoy posting inspiring quotes, fun reels and photos, but on the other I see the risks and dangers associated with it in general. 

Social media alone isn’t harmful, but unhealthy use of it certainly can be.  When used for self-expression, inspiration, advocacy, and healthy connection, it can be fun! Who doesn’t like to watch a few Tik-Tok videos or get lost scrolling Instagram for a few mindless minutes?

The problem is that many adolescents struggle with self-esteem issues; and social media,  can cause harm during this vulnerable period of life. In fact, studies have shown that girls’ use of social media is linked to increased rates of depression. Children and youth today are spending more time than ever online compared to pre-pandemic times. And, whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. Unfortunately, so are the dangers and risks hidden beneath the clever videos and reels. 

Consider for a moment its influence towards relentless, unrealistic comparison and self-criticism.  Life isn’t all holidays and flawless complexions. Filters create unrealistic ideals that can make us feel inadequate. Influencers can either inspire us to love our extra pounds or starve ourselves to fit into one of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses. 

Other risks of social media include interference with sleep, schoolwork, and exposing kids to inappropriate content, online predators, and cyber-bullying. Children, teens, tweens and adolescents are at risk simply by having an online presence. Scary, right?  Well, my hope is that awareness will inspire pro-activity and caution.

Keep in mind that there is no permanent delete button on social media. Remind your kids that someone can quickly screenshot their post and share it within a few seconds. A good rule of thumb is to pause before posting.  Only post something you would say or do in real life.  I have seen multiple teenagers who have had shared photos come back to haunt them.

Social media is full of every type of content possible and your children will find what they’re looking for, whether it be helpful or hurtful.  When a teen is struggling with an image issue, they look may for support online, which may help them feel more self-acceptant, or  make them feel worse.  As caregivers we should set limits and boundaries on screen time, but also have open judge-free conversations about what they are looking at and how it makes them feel.

We all need validation, and a compliment can feel really great!  But, if we learn to rely on people’s comments and opinions to determine our worth, we’re swimming into dangerous water. For some youth, social media is a river with a very strong current. The seeking of validation in the form of likes, views and shares can become addictive and interfere with the development of healthy self-esteem. Compliments and insults are someone else’s opinion.  Teach your kids that no one’s opinion of them matters more than their own. The ability to self -validate is a characteristic of healthy self-esteem.

Ever heard of a finsta account? It is a fake account a teen, tween or adolescent might set up to hide certain content. Many kids have fake accounts. The only answer to this is to work towards a trusting relationship with your child so they don’t feel the need to hide things from you.  You can also limit how much unmonitored time they have on their devices. I suggest having a technology contract with your child and setting up clear expectations and boundaries.  If they go against it, there’s no need to get angry, just refer to the contract and follow through on the pre- determined consequences.

Technology is complicated! So is adolescence, and so is parenting.  The best advice I can give is to be an authoritative parent.  This means that you are nurturing, loving, and encourage open conversation about the tough stuff, but you also establish firm family limits and rules. When parents listen to understand and don’t react with anger, it helps children feel safer to share what’s real in their online and offline worlds.

Marcey Heschel B.A, M.A., LPCA

Marcey Heschel Wellness Counseling & Psychotherapy PLLC