Many tweens and teens follow social media influencers on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and other apps. While some influencers share real-life experiences to inspire their followers, other influencers tend to only portray a seemingly perfect life. Constantly watching this unrealistic view of the world can cause young (and old!) followers to suffer from self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, and more. We asked 11 experts how parents and teachers can help students resist the pressure created by these carefully curated, and often sponsored, social media influencers.
1. Limit exposure to social media influencers
Alexandra Fung, CEO, Upparent
The most effective way to limit the influence of carefully curated social media feeds is to limit exposure to them and to focus on nurturing individual relationships instead. As parents, we can help our tweens and teens direct their time and energy toward developing healthy relationships they can ground themselves in, which can provide a contrast to the filtered and unrealistic portrayals they might encounter on social media.
Even in the midst of a pandemic that has limited our interactions so significantly, we can still encourage and help our kids spend meaningful time with friends and family, whether it’s playing games together online, chatting over Zoom or FaceTime, even writing letters, or having socially distant hangouts. These real relationships can provide a meaningful support system and source of happiness, and even fill the time that might otherwise be spent scrolling through social media.
2. Stop being available online 24/7
Brandon Walsh, CEO, Dads Agree
Social media can get really exhausting and that can play with your mental peace to a great extent. The main reason for this exhaustion is the pressure to be available 24/7. People expect you to respond to their tags, posts, texts, and much more. They expect you to be there when they reach out to you instantly. Moreover, the new posts by everyone else put on the pressure to keep oneself in the game.
One of the best ways parents and teachers can help with getting rid of this pressure is to create awareness amongst kids that it is not important to be online all the time. You don’t always have to be available. In fact, it is great to take a little break from social media every now and then just for the sake of your mental health.
Taking some time off can relieve you from the pressure of being available, staying active, and keep yourself as part of the race. During this break, kids can just concentrate on themselves by engaging in other healthier activities such as pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, become a part of outdoor activities, or maybe just spend time with family and watch movies. Stay in contact with your friends but just step out of social media activities.
3. Ban harsh criticism by everyone in the household
Andrew Cunningham, Founder, DailyPest
When my daughter (age 11) came home from school a few months ago and told us she was starting her new organic diet, we knew there was an issue afoot.
After questioning her and figuring out the cause of this new insecurity, we found out that she had felt enticed into doing so by posts from the hundreds of Instagram and YouTube accounts she is following. She is extremely healthy so we sought out to do something to counter the insecurities that she is unwarrantedly generating from these unrealistic personalities.
We implemented a new rule in the household: to ban any and all harsh criticism. Even as a joke, we no longer allow it in our home. Second, we have introduced her to an array of hobbies, in hopes that she finds something that she is naturally good at, something that will keep her away from scrolling through an iPad all night.
With that mentioned, we have also limited screen time. Most parents might have already implemented this rule in their household, but for different reasons. We sought out to boost her confidence and avoid unrealistic expectations, and this seems to have worked. The combination of these 3 things have been going on for about 8 months now, and we haven’t heard her use the word diet or lip-filler ever since.
4. Teach your teens to admire work ethic and character strengths
Kelly Miller, A Brighter Purpose
We are facing a crisis with our tweens and teens. Social influencers are adept at showing their skill with filters, photography, and timing. These are skills that have developed over years of practice and it isn’t actually new; they’re now widespread. Think of the airbrushed beauties donning the covers of fashion magazines.
The only place comparison is helpful is utilizing it to emulate people we admire and embracing their work ethic. Get into conversations with your kids about what they admire about these influencers. Ask what your child believes about that person in real life. Are they a hard worker? Do they help others? Besides being beautiful, what are they good at? Any other type of comparison only steals our joy. If someone else is beautiful, it doesn’t make you ugly.
Concentrating on personal character strengths is a powerful way to foster self-efficacy growth. Images are something our eyes consume. Shift into personal values and strengths. Know them, grow them, and show them. It offers a pathway to be fulfilled and purposeful humans. If your child doesn’t focus on what is great about them as a person, it’s time to shift into that type of language.
5. Unsubscribe, unfollow, or block anything that gives you a negative feeling
Emily Stanley, Bold Coach Emily
- Listen to your body as you scroll through your social media feeds. Does anything give you a negative feeling, a feeling of not measuring up? If so – Unsubscribe, Unfollow, or Block!
- Watch out for signs of photoshop. There are so many filters and photo manipulation tools that it can be hard to tell what’s real. Look for blurred edges, backgrounds that are distorted, or unnaturally smooth skin! (Reddit r/photoshop has great examples of how to spot edits.)
- Focus on the positive. Fill your feeds with messages and people that make you laugh, build you up, or inspire you. Curate your feed so it serves you!
For parents and teachers, watch out for an increase in negative self-talk and comparisons. Also, be aware of any editing apps on your child’s phone. Are they feeling the need to edit all their photos before posting? If so, have a discussion about why they feel that way, and reinforce that even the social media influencers don’t look like their pictures in real life.
6. Teach your teens to think critically about what they’re not seeing online
Donna Tang, Budgeting Expert, CreditDonkey
With the increased use of social media, its adverse effects have also increased. Low self-esteem is one of the significant impacts. As a mental health counselor, I would suggest parents and teachers teach kids and adults to think of social media critically. Ask questions about what individuals on social media are hiding in their videos and pictures. We may name this thinking method ‘thinking out of the crop’ because most of the images are cropped, and videos are edited. Ask the child or student to think about what the influencers could have edited out of the video and the pictures.
This method would make them think critically about social media and the lives of people posting everything online. It would help if you also told teens and tweens that the social media celebrities are also ordinary people like all of us. They make videos in a predetermined environment, and all the videos are scripted. It would also be better if you told your child that those videos are far from reality. It should help them restore their self-esteem and think of themselves as normal as everyone on social media.
7. Educate your teen on body image, body shaming, and self-esteem
Carla Marie Manly, Clinical Psychologist
Social media certainly impacts users of all ages on physical, social, and psychological levels; its impact on teens and tweens is even more profound given various developmental stage issues and the impressionable nature of their minds.
Sadly, social media influencers are often more focused on getting attention–generating likes and increasing their following–than caring about the ultimate impact of their posts. In today’s world, social media influencers have a great deal of power to affect society-particularly highly vulnerable teens and tweens. However, with such power goes great responsibility–yet many social media influencers conveniently forget about the responsibility aspect.
- Social media can profoundly impact tweens and teens in the realm of body image. Body shaming is increasingly a problem given the power of social media to influence how tweens and teens perceive themselves. And, in fact, given the rising influence of social media, depression and anxiety issues stemming from a comparison of the self to the perfection of others are increasingly problematic.
- When it comes to self-esteem, research shows that social media containing perfection-oriented images versus real-life images certainly impacts how a teen or tween feels about their personal worth.
Six Powerful Technology Use Tips
1. Engage in age-appropriate, nonjudgmental discussions with teens and tweens about important issues such as body image, body shaming, and self-esteem.
2. Discuss the impact of idealized, perfection-oriented images on self-esteem.
3. In age-appropriate ways, discuss the commoditization of social media and how this impacts the output of influencers. Teens and tweens are often wholly unaware that many of the images they see are created and altered in order to benefit others financially and otherwise.
4. Set simple, clear limits for non-academic screen time. Ensure that all caregivers are aware of the guidelines. If a child presses for more screen time, avoid the urge to give in. Instead, be ready with suggestions and materials for other ways to have fun, including puzzles, crafts, board games, books, and outdoor exercise.
5. Whether screen time is for academic or extracurricular purposes, stay generally abreast of the content of the material being viewed. It’s always important to be aware of a teen or tween’s social media use.
6. Openly discuss family values. Create an understanding of what is appropriate and expected regarding technology, violence, sexuality, and the respectful treatment of others.
8. Show the difference between positive and negative influencers
Ales Wilk, Animal Fate
Social media influencers have been trending for quite some time now, with vloggers being the most attractive ones for teens and tweens. Different social media influencers cover different areas. While there are some creating travel and food vlogs, others are creating sports and gym vlogs. Every influencer can impact a teen differently. Food vlogs can lead to developing a habit of eating out, which can cause obesity and overspending.
Now that this is a prime part of life for most teens, teachers and parents must educate children about how vloggers can be only portraying the artificial side of their life. The only way to convince teens and tweens that influencers lead them to an unhealthy lifestyle is by educating them. However, you cannot stop them from watching vlogs, so encourage them to watch the good ones. Suggest vloggers that you think will influence teens to work towards a positive lifestyle. Once they see the difference, they will be able to evaluate influencers themselves in the future.
9. Start the conversation by watching The Social Dilemma
Meghan Jones, Planner Me Up
The best way to respond to teenagers negatively impacted by social media and the unrealistic highlight reels of people’s lives on Tik Tok and Instagram is to bring awareness to it. Simply telling teens to limit their use of social media consumption doesn’t work. School administrators, teachers, and parents should partner together to inform teens on how to use social media in healthier ways. Social media shouldn’t be used to compare their lives to strangers on the internet, or for them to take everything their favorite influencer posts as factual information.
Books and documentaries that provide more insight on the benefits of digital minimalism and the actual intent behind social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, should be shared. Let teenagers know how they are really being affected mentally by their daily usage of social media apps. The Social Dilemma on Netflix is a great way to get the conversation started.
10. Influencers are like superheroes, they aren’t real
Sarah Jimmens, CEO, Planet Shoes
Just like superhero movies were a source of inspiration for millennials during their childhood, social media influencers, through their videos, are playing the same role for today’s teens, but differently. It was only a matter of time until we grew up and realized superhero powers could never be real, and there is no point in wishing for them or hoping for a spider to bite you. That reality check was harsh. The portrayal of the perfect life of an influencer can lead in the same direction.
We must educate teens and tweens about the purpose of influencers behind creating vlogs and other videos. Why they show their lifestyle the way they do it, the purpose of gaining views and social media following, and how all their content can just be fake. You cannot stop them from watching these influencers if they are keen followers, but you can help build their perspective not to get influenced by them.
11. Teach your teen: You are your own YOU
Michael Garbade, Founder, Ledu Education Ecosystem
The best way you can help your child is by creating awareness in them that just because someone is doing something, you don’t have to necessarily do it. The major pressure that kids feel these days is of keeping up with their friends, their social circle, and what they see on the feed.
If half of your friend list is vacationing, the social media algorithm works in such a way that it will start to show you sponsored content for vacation packages. This tends to put the child under pressure who can’t afford to go somewhere as fancy as others to actually wanting to go.
It is important to help your child understand that there is no need to feel intimidated by others. Their circumstances and situation support them to take advantage of certain leisure, but not everyone can. You have to consider your position and then act accordingly. There may be a chance that you own or possess something that others will feel intimidated by. This is just how the world works and social media only makes it worse.
Instead, it is better to focus on yourself and your life. Walk the road at your pace. You are responsible for your life, and no one has a say in that.
Don’t just talk to your teens once about social media influencers. Have open conversations regularly about what influencers posting, why they’re posting, and what influencers aren’t showing about their real life. Always let your teens know they can come to you and talk about their insecurities and jealousy from what they see online.