My kids’ obsession with Instagram and other social media has gotten to ridiculous levels. My teenage daughter takes photos of her outfits before she goes to school and wears the option that got the most likes. She’s already placing far too much value on what her peers think of her, and social media is making it worse. I’m ready to throw her phone in the trash. How can I get her to stop relying on social media so much – especially for her self-identity?
-Irritated with Instagram
Dear Irritated –
Absurd as it may seem to us who grew up without social media, our teens have no frame of reference for life without it. So although it seems “ridiculous,” it’s time to embrace the fact that this is a big part of your teen’s world. That doesn’t mean social media use shouldn’t be controlled (it should) or that it should drive their identity (it shouldn’t) but it does mean giving up the illusion that a teen can live a normal life without it today.
It also means recognizing that if you want to guide your daughter away from relying on anything (social media included) for her self-identity, that you have to enter in to this part of her life, rather than trying to keep her entirely from it. You need to understand her motivations, how she uses social media, who her digital friends are, and what she thinks about it all. And the good news is that, statistically, she probably wants you to!
According to my For Parents Only research with middle school and high school kids, our kids want us to make the effort to understand their life and their world, and be a part of it. It sends the message that we care enough about our child and who he or she really is (rather than who we might want them to be) that we’re willing to step into a social environment that may not come naturally, in order to better understand them. It sends the message that they can trust us.
So instead of giving your “disapproving” glance whenever your daughter checks her Instagram comments, ask her about them. I assume you are already checking her phone, social media use and texts (hint hint), so next time you take a look and hand her back her phone, ask open-ended questions to show your interest. “Who comments the most on what you post?” “What do you think about what Paige said?” “Read me some of your favorite posts!”
This involvement almost certainly will lead to more meaningful questions that give you windows of opportunity for guidance. “Do you ever wear an outfit that got voted down, just because you liked it best?” “What do you think, when you see that Jamie has 300 followers and you have 67?” “Do any of your friends just not care whether anyone comments on their posts? Why do you think they are free of the need for that approval?”
Casual questions with deep opportunities.
A woman business leader that I know tells the people who work for her, “I can’t grow you unless I know you” – and the same principle applies to you as a parent. You can’t grow your child, and help her avoid the temptations to rely on friends and approval for self-worth, if you know very little about a huge part of her life.
And once you do know her better, you’ll know best how to share some key truths in a way she’ll accept – like the fact that although it is natural to seek affirmation in the affection or praise of others, it is only in knowing that we are God’s children, created in His image, richly loved in spite of our flaws that we find true affirmation. That is simply not something we can get from anything or anyone else! You’ll be able to help her see that relying on Instagram comments for happiness is a road to heartbreak.
And since she will now know that you care about her, and that she can trust you – she’ll be far more inclined to listen.
This article first appeared on Patheos.