Last week I was reading an article on ‘selfie syndrome’. It discusses why adolescents engage in behaviour where they seek validation on social media. This article reminds me of a recent talk I had with a parent where she worryingly shares about her kid’s routine and his ‘over-involvement with Instagram and Facebook. She revealed that her kid is so ‘addicted’ to these social media platforms that he shared his whole routine via posts and selfies. The parent was frustrated and wanted a working solution to this problem. But I was wondering what makes that teenager to engaged that intensely with social media platforms?
In one of the articles, Caroline Knorr, a parenting editor at Common Sense Media, discuss how social media starts as a fun way to document daily life and later become an obsession, especially for young teens. Knorr asserted in her article that social media is much more immediate and profound than the traditional forms that were popular in the past. According to her report, 35% of teens are worried about people tagging them in unflattering images, 27% feel stressed about how they look in photos, and 22% feel bad about themselves when they do not have enough likes or shares on their images.
Reasons – Why?
The following could be some of the reasons why teenagers engage in such behaviour.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out
Researchers believe one of the reasons why teens seek validation on social media could be FOMO or ‘Fear of Missing-out’ syndrome. According to Gladwell, FOMO involves a fear of missing out on someone’s unique experiences and can be regarded as a subcategory of stress. To put it another way, FOMO describes the annoying feeling that other people may be experiencing something fun and extraordinary but that you are missing out on it. However, to mitigate the sense of FOMO and to level the position, teens usually posts and share every information about their whereabouts to update the audience.
Socially Distant Culture
Another core reason could be – pandemic. The new socially distant culture, thanks to this pandemic, leave people with no other option to solely rely on technology and such platforms that satisfy their urge for human connection. Since last year, people, especially teens are constantly connected to the World Wide Web. They interact mainly online and access social networking more than older adults. As a result, teenagers today may feel like they are under constant pressure. Regularly posting status updates, viewing the number of followers they have, or analyzing the number of likes they have received on a recent post can leave teens feeling less than worthy.
Doubt, Insecurity, and Anxiety
According to research published in 2016, the practice of comparing one’s self with others, which social media so readily facilitates, can result in an endless stream of questioning and self-doubt: Why did that post get more ‘likes’ than mine did? Why does that person have more Facebook friends than I do? Moreover, an individual might also start to obsess over their reputation and how they’re being perceived. They’re plagued by doubt and insecurity with each new post: Do people like what I posted? What if they don’t like it?
Unfortunately, for some individuals, a complete lack of feedback can be worse than a negative response. It can be said that negative feedback is evidence that the post, and thus the poster, was deemed worthy of a response. This can be a form of validation for the individual. On the other hand, the lack of a response can mean that no one cares since no one took the time to respond. This can lead to anxiety and distress around the perceived lack of attention.
Parental Involvement and Support
Jonathan Rhoads, the founder of JMR Counseling, believes adolescents who are confident and have healthy self-esteem are much better equipped to navigate social media and other online platforms. However, if it’s not enough for parents to verbally support and encourage these traits in their children, the message needs to be modelled in terms of their own noticeable self-concept.
Teens will adopt what their parents do. Therefore, parents need to model emotional expression; they need to teach and model for children that they’re accepted and that it’s safe to express their feelings. However, parents also need to understand and appreciate the significance of social media in their children’s lives. A big issue is that many parents didn’t have social media access when they were growing up, making it difficult to relate to their children’s experiences.
Rhodes suggested establishing technology-free zones at home may help teens in managing their social media involvement. All in all, it will support teens to have technology-free times at home during which they can engage in other activities with their families.