Yesterday the Soroptimist International of Lincoln, a service club for women, held its fifth annual Teen Esteem conference, where over 120 teens ranging in ages from 14 to 17 years old gathered to be inspired about their own inherent worth and capacity to make a difference in the world.
Social media hypes the teen experience for better or worse, and events like this are important to remind youth that they have power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to feelings of isolation and inadequacy in their social network. The keynote speaker, Jenny Williamson is the founder of Courage Worldwide, a Sacramento region non-profit dedicated to restoring the lives of girls rescued from sex trafficking which is a growing industry that also capitalizes upon social media. According to Williamson, “Romeo pimps” target girls who express vulnerability on social media. “They romance girls who are vulnerable, and they will tell them that they are beautiful and get them to be dependent upon them emotionally,” she said. “After a while, sometimes as long as a year, they start selling their bodies for sex.”
Williamson encourages teens to concentrate first on who you are, not on what to do. “Once you figure out who you are, then your heart will lead you,” she said. “Do what your heart calls you to do.” Recognizing that social media is the place where teens live, she encourages them to consider “if you met them on Facebook, then they are really not your friends.” Below are five ways social media impacts teen self-esteem:
Exposed to nefarious thoughts and bad actors. Children are putting themselves “out there”, sharing emotions, thoughts, issues, and desires on-line. This makes them vulnerable to the predatory and exploitative agendas of others (think bullies, pedophiles and personalized on-line advertising).
Seeking approval of peers becomes the primary objective in life. Two examples are 1) the number of likes or people in their network is perceived as the sole source of validation, and 2) in order to express affection for a love interest, you must send a nude photo.
Anxiety becomes a new norm. There is a tendency to have too much information about the social dynamics and how you fit it. Many teens wind up checking their devices constantly to see what is happening. There is a fear of missing out (FOMO) or being excluded that is intensified and inspires insecurity and anxiety.
Boundaryless, clandestine communication makes it easy to express insecurity as hostility (bullying). It is easy to be mean from behind the screen and the children are experiencing a bully climate. Assistant Principal of Lincoln High School, Vikki Eutsey, encourages parents to teach their children how not to be a victim of bullying. “Parents are quick to blame others, and they are not paying attention to what their own child is doing on line,” she said. “When their use [of the device] is unhealthy, it needs to be taken away.”
Tips for reinforcing teen esteem in the social network
- Help your child understand that they have power over their own thoughts and actions in response to what other people say and do. In a free society, every individual is responsible for their beliefs and actions – especially when responding to the hurtful decisions and actions of others.
- Ask your child to think about how they are using social media and texting. “Parents need to get involved and ask ‘is my child using [the technology] to do good?” said Eutsey. She encourages parents to teach their children to block, delete and ignore the messages from peers and others who are attempting to target them for bullying.
- Monitor cyber communications. The purpose of monitoring is twofold: 1) to catch your child doing things well and acknowledge it (as this is validation they crave), and 2) detect and provide guidance when cyber communications indicate risks, cruelty or inappropriate content. Your child knows how to navigate the technology; you can impart wisdom on how to use the technology wisely.
Vice Principal Eutsey’s daughter, Mackenzie, attended the event. “Technology is a part of our world – we are attached,” she said. “The most important thing parents can do to help is build trust. Trust is very important.”