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The Perfect Reel

For many teens, the pressure to be “perfect” is an unavoidable reality. “Whether it’s envying students who appear to ace every subject, longing to be one of the popular kids, or wishing to rank among the star athletes, almost all teens have experienced the pain of feeling ‘less than’ at some point,” says Anna Kaminsky, who has a PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of Toronto and works as a medical services manager at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario.

In an article for Advanced Psychology Services, Kaminsky goes on explain that while this is nothing new, since the advent of social media, this pressure has become exponentially more invasive. “The average teen has almost unlimited access to a wide variety of social media networks, all of which send endless notifications updating them on the life of their peers: showing off every smiling couple, every outing they’re not a part of, every vacation their family can’t afford to take,” she says.

Teens also often follow “influencers” on social media who have accrued thousands of followers because of their perfect looks and style. These influencers carefully curate their images—they never post a bad photograph, never wear the wrong clothing, never appear to be ordinary in any way. In essence, these social media celebrities bring the unobtainable standards once reserved for fashion models in glossy magazines into a teen’s everyday world.

According to childhood development experts, the combination of feelings of vulnerability, the need to be validated by their peers, and the way teens compare themselves to others creates the perfect recipe for self-doubt. Evidence suggests that the illusion of perfection on social media leads to teens trying to mask their own sadness and insecurity, faking happiness to “fit in” online.

Combat the pressures of social media

To help teens navigate social media and prevent them from falling into an endless cycle of trying to create the perfect persona, parents need to help teens manage the effects as soon as they become active on it. Kaminsky offers these tips:

Don’t dismiss the importance of social media to your teen. Parents often fail to realize just how large a role social media plays in their teen’s life. Try to remember that teens have grown up in a world where social media is a part of everyday reality and, as such, they cannot readily distinguish between the two—the fights, break-ups, compliments and insults that occur online are just as affecting to these young people as “real life” events. Encourage your teen to talk about what happens on social media and when they do open up, never dismiss the events discussed simply because they happened online.

Encourage your teen to think critically about what they see online. Make your teen aware of the fact that many people manipulate what they post to make their lives seem better than they are. Make sure your teen knows not to take social media at face value, and suggest that they reflect on how social media makes them feel. How do these images affect their mood? Is it really a good idea to keep browsing if it’s causing them to feel badly about themselves?

Show your teen that it’s OK to fail. As a parent, you are your teen’s primary model of behavior. Use this role to mitigate some of the harmful effects of social media by not hiding your own failures, but rather discussing them and showing your teen healthy ways of dealing with making mistakes. Demonstrate how failure helps us to learn, eventually leading to success. In turn, you should always take the time to praise your teen for making an effort, even if he or she doesn’t succeed. And don’t be afraid to reveal that you often have to work hard for what you have.

Remain aware of your own reactions to social media. If your child seems unhappy or is isolating, don’t let it go just because they post smiling selfies and happy quotes to their social media pages. Let them know that it’s always OK to open up and talk to you, and assure them that home is one place where they never have to pretend they’re “perfect” in order to be loved.

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