Our culture’s obsession with self-esteem has a new vehicle, and it fits in your teen’s pocket. Teens using social media today prefer to watch TikTok and YouTube videos over their parents’ former obsession with MTV. On average, teens spend a mind-boggling nine hours a day using technology, most of which is sharing every detail of their lives on apps like Instagram and SnapChat. Our teens’ quest is affirmation.
Affirmation & Fame
Forget 15 minutes of fame. They’re only looking for sixty seconds — that’s the minimum length of a video on TikTok, the app that has taken teens using social media platforms by storm. They even have the stories to prove it.
For example, in 2019, a teen became famous from her short dancing videos posted on TikTok. Those videos launched her into stardom. Her fame turned to a documentary series and couple of animated films, as well as being one of the most followed people on social media.
Although watching that creative video is fun and harmless, hanging out online isn’t without risks. We already know that teens using social media give away every detail of their lives. This can lure stalkers, provide bullies with potential fodder, and affect how future colleges or employers view them. There’s also a serious issue that is a growing problem with teens: technology and smartphone addiction. New research shows that half of American teens believe they are addicted to their smartphones.
The Reality of Media Addiction
Researchers believe that as teens become hooked on social-media apps, they are less able to regulate emotions, manage impulses, and make good decisions. Social-media addiction also creates lower self-esteem — the direct opposite of what teens use social media for. This addiction has also resulted in the nation’s first cellphone addiction rehab center for teens.
The bottom line is that when our teens spend an excessive amount of time online, they are on a journey to find their identity by comparing themselves to others. The fame, beauty, wit, status, and identity of other online teens become the measuring stick by which they judge their value. They can never measure up; they are susceptible to anxiety and depression.
A parent’s greatest error could possibly be turning a blind eye to how much time teens spend online and what they’re doing there and why. Fortunately, there are things we can do to help our teens using social media to appropriately navigate technology and avoid becoming addicted to its promises of identity, fame, and celebrity status.
The biggest problem with a teen’s value being formed by media is that teenagers are often being lied to. How many of those Instagram photos of your daughter’s friends are perfected beyond reality? Is Lizzo’s newest music video really an expression of art or could it be mild porn? Being aware of the content your teen is consuming and setting limits can help them accurately see reality.
Content on Media
One reason we set limits is so that our children can live in the real world with real relationships — friends who have zits, pores, and love relationships built on serving each other. What can you do? Limit the exposure and boycott the bad stuff. It’s OK to say no. You are the parent. It’s your job to discipline and correct your teen when their desires run counter to what God says is best for them.
Time on Media
Almost a quarter of all teens admit to being online “almost constantly.” You’ve seen it. You go out to eat with your family and you notice teens using social media at other tables. They have little to no interaction with the people they’re with. They’re busily attending to their smartphones. It’s OK in these situations, to say no to your kids and encourage in-person interactions.
Time limits on social media are a small cross to bear, but they will feel like one nonetheless to a teen. Just as we set curfews because we love our teens and want to keep them safe, we can set time boundaries on technology as well. Especially, during times when their attention should be on the other people during meals or school hours.
Identity in Christ
Christ offers a real and lasting sense of worth. Instagram doesn’t. Self-denial, not self-esteem, is actually the solution to our insecurity as we find our value in Christ. Despite what the culture tells your teen, that’s the way to overcome their insecurity, not another follower on their Instagram profile.
Spend time in prayer, asking for the Lord to be with your teen as they interact with and consume media. Take time praying with your teen, encouraging them to seek refuge in the Lord, not in social media. Find time in the Word, find scripture to uplift your teen with when their hearts become heavy with anxiety from social media.
Though technology and social media are huge parts of society today, it is possible to encourage your teens using social media to turn to the Lord for affirmation instead of their “loyal” followers. Your teen is being raised in a unique world where technology is around every corner. However, there is hope. The Lord is with you as you navigate boundaries with you teens and He is your strength.
Dannah Gresh is author of The 20 Hardest Questions Every Mom Faces.