Behind the Digital Curtain: Thinking Outside the (crop) Box

Published: Jul 17 2021

On our podcast today Leigha speaks candidly about ups and downs of social media and youth.

There is much to be admired about our special guest today. Her name is Leigha. She is our 15-year-old cousin from southern Florida. Born to a musical family, Leigha plays guitar, clarinet, ukulele and sings in the church choir. As an athlete from childhood, Leigha loves sports of all kinds specifically basketball and softball which she has thrived in as a promising player. Furthermore, she played volleyball throughout elementary and middle school and now plays at an elite level as member of a travel volleyball team. She is excited about transitioning from middle school to high school in the fall. Per Leigha, “I draw strength by having a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Being that I'm only 15, my faith in Jesus Christ can get a little bit low at times but God always finds a way to bring me back home to Him.”

Per Rae Jacobson, in a recent article entitled Social Media and Self-Doubt, magazines and advertising have long been criticized for upholding dangerously unrealistic standards of success and beauty, but at least it’s acknowledged that they are idealized. The models wearing Size 0 clothing are just that: models. And even they are made-up, retouched, and photoshopped.

These days, however, the impossible standards are set much closer to home, not by celebrities and models but by classmates and friends. With social media, teens can curate their lives, and the resulting feeds read like highlight reels, showing only the best and most enviable moments while concealing efforts, struggles, and the merely ordinary aspects of day-to-day life. And there’s evidence that those images are causing distress for many kids.

Donna Wick, EdD, founder of Mind-to-Mind Parenting, says that for teenagers the combined weight of vulnerability, the need for validation, and a desire to compare themselves with peers forms what she describes as a “perfect storm of self-doubt.” She’s so thin. Her grades are perfect. What a happy couple. I’ll never be that cool, that skinny, that lucky, that successful.

The fallout from these unrealistic standards becomes more dangerous once kids reach college, where they face higher stakes, harder work, and a largely parent-free environment. The pressure to look perfect to impress new peers, not to speak of friends and family back home, can be even greater.

What can parents do to help kids build a safe and reasonable relationship with social media before they’re out on their own?

Dr. Wick says keeping teens from falling into the social media trap is more complicated than it sounds. “It’s not about taking the phone away or having a single conversation.” She says, “Parents need to be diligent about making sure kids are getting a dose of reality and need to model healthy behaviors.”

Take social media seriously.

Encourage them to think outside the (crop) box.

Model a healthy response to failure. “Kids have to get the message that it is okay to fail.

Praise (and show) effort.

Go on a “social holiday.” If you’re worried that your child is getting too wrapped up in social media, try taking a social media holiday.

Trust people, not pictures. Finally, don’t rely on social media to let you know how your child is really doing.

In the end, as a parent you want your child to be happy and successful. But making sure she knows you love her and you’re proud of her as she is—unfiltered, unedited, imperfect—will help her build confidence she needs to accept herself and stay safe and healthy when she’s out on her own.