Social media – a gift or a curse?

It goes without saying that children are constantly under scrutiny by their peers; for many what seems to be important is what ‘you say you do’ rather than ‘what you do’.  This is a general statement and not about specific individuals, as I have met many children who are not drawn into the world of ‘chasing likes’. However, with young children being born into a world of social media, without the correct support and education it is true that children can become ‘lost’ to this blurred sense of reality.

Many children post pictures, true and not so, for the need to be valued, noticed and accepted by their peers. Choosing this instant gratification to improve self-confidence is not long lasting or sustainable; it just creates an unfulfilling cycle. There becomes a need for more posts which in time become further and further away from reality. Importance lies on how many likes they receive or how many views something has had.

Often, they feel the need to prove how ‘perfect’ their life is, which adds another type of pressure to an already demanding situation. Confidence and self-worth diminishes over time as children feel they can’t match this unrealistic demand. Of course it’s nice to share a picture or something fun on social media, but confidence should come from within and not as a comparison to others. Often, things seen on social media are a fabrication or exaggeration so they are fighting a losing battle from the start.

At present, mental health and wellbeing are at the top of the agenda for children and rightly so! However, there is still a lot of work to be done to help support children and help them understand that what they share on social media doesn’t determine who they are!  We need to teach children the skills to quality-assure information as opposed to just finding it. This is true for educational information or facts but also for social awareness and the pressures this can bring.

I have seen so many pictures on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat that I know are not ‘real’.  I’ve seen people stand next to sports cars, knowing they’ve never owed one.  I’ve seen couples on holiday argue by the pool and then take a selfie, smile, and go back to arguing. I’ve seen people peel black face masks off and brush their teeth with charcoal, which will apparently make you look like Selena Gomez.

Children’s idols are now becoming people like the Kardashians who became ‘famous for being famous’. A lot of children associate being rich or famous with being happy and if they use a certain product they will feel better. Our children hang on the words of people on social media. Just to put this into context, a Kardashian tweeted that she didn’t use Snapchat anymore and the company lost $1.3 billion dollars, overnight, due to the influence she has over her followers.

It seems as if the world has gone mad when people get cosmetic surgery to be able to pout better in selfies; not even to ‘look better’ in general but specifically for a selfie. The worrying thing for me is that our children see life through this distorted lens and aren’t able to filter the false from the true or the important from the not. Because anyone can post, content is not regulated and so children need to have the skills to self-regulate – take things with a pinch of salt!

More than ever we need to look after our children; there is an invisible world out there that we need to acknowledge and not hide from. We need to educate children so that they know it is okay to have a ‘normal’ day and not have anything to post.  We need to teach children the power of self-worth and how they see themselves. We need to celebrate the fact we are all different and the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. We also need to educate families on the effects of social media and that there is a reason that many social media networks have a minimum age. I will quote Cool Runnings, when Yul Brenner looks into the mirror, ‘I see pride. I see power’ and that’s what I want every child to think when they look into the mirror each morning.

Social media is amazing and used in the right way can bring like-minded people together, share resources and thoughts, spark ideas and showcase something you are proud of. Whether it can be regarded as a gift or curse lies in the way we use it.  It would be interesting if people had to post  pictures of the things that went wrong in a week – maybe that would be called ‘Realagram’ but somehow I don’t think this would be as popular!