The Most Important Relationship a Teenager Can Have

July 31, 2018

The number of selfies your teenager is taking is not likely indicative of a robust and healthy sense of self-esteem. The action could actually be self-harming. Are you watching from the sideline as your child starts to spend more time in front of the mirror and in front of their own smart phone camera? Do you notice that their mood and overall happiness is negatively affected by the increase in those activities? The behavior could be signaling that their self-esteem is in danger.  The most important relationship a teen can have is with themselves.

Written by Delaney Mullennix, BSW
Outreach and Facility Coordinator, BRAINS

Consider the ‘selfie’. This seemingly harmless action can cost hours every week and plenty of stress. Leah Campbell, a writer for healthline.com, describes how most every teen parent has watched their child take a selfie. “They’ve also witnessed what follows- the mad dash to snap several photos – and then the hour spent choosing the best pic to post online” (Campbell, 2018). The quick task of taking a photo now costs a full hour. It doesn’t stop there. Social media platforms are made to steal your attention. Your child may have had the intention of posting a photo but then their thumb took over. They spent 20 minutes scrolling down Facebook’s News Feed until it stopped loading quickly enough…suddenly realizing they still have not posted their selfie. Total time, 1 hour 20 minutes. Let us not forget to mention the fifty-some times the child will check their social media platforms once the picture is posted and be drawn right back into the News Feed scroll auto-response. Total time, 2 hours. The Pew Research Center’s Teens Relationship Survey estimated that tweens or teenagers average 11 hours or more of media and tech time a day (Lenhart, 2015). And we thought television killed brain-cells!

Teenagers’ brains work differently than the average adult. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explains, “their actions are guided more by the emotional and reactive amygdala and less by the thoughtful, logical frontal cortex” (AACAP). The frontal cortex is still maturing and developing well into adolescent and young adulthood. The logical adult may decide that spending two hours posting a selfie doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, the teenager will act on their emotions and fail to see the rationale behind their impulsive decision to snap a photo and thumb through their News Feed. Just the initial action of taking a selfie in itself can be indicative of poor self-esteem. “Kids are looking for validation in terms of their physical appearance. So, they may already be predisposed to negative self-image issues before they ever go online to share those photos” (Campbell, 2018). Dr. Michael Wolff, Co-owner and Neuropsychologist at BRAINS, says electronics can give the sense of meeting psychological emotional needs more conveniently (Wolff & Bridges, 2016). Teens know that posting a selfie is easier and faster than alternative real-world solutions such as engaging in mindfulness, self-care strategies, and talk therapy.

When teenagers spend brain power on perfecting their self-image, they are expending valuable energy that could otherwise be spent on learning new things, exploring new curiosities, or bettering relationships with their family and friends. It is important that teenagers spend brain power embracing their self-image, not perfecting it. Susan Whitbourne, PhD. writes that, “the basis for a positive sense of self-esteem is that you accept yourself as you are, not as you ‘may’ be” (Whitbourne, 2016). Selfies are rarely filter free. There may have been times when you could not even recognize your own child in a photo on social media. Teenagers attempt to replicate the beauty, strength, style, and femininity/masculinity of their insta-models instead of presenting as their own unique and flawed selves.

Help your teen develop a healthy sense of self-esteem by starting a conversation about how spending time on social media affects their energy or mood levels. Having the conversation may help them to become more self-aware of their feelings after being on their smart-phone. The rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise. Encouraging more space and time in your teen’s day can greatly reduce the anxiety caused by feeling busy and rushed. Imagine the space that could be created by simply eliminating a selfie. Talk to your teen about why they log on to social media, followed by a discussion about what they wish to spend more time doing. Emphasize how important it is they have a healthy relationship with the most important person in their life, themselves.

 

References

1. AACAP. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2016, September). Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/aacap/families_and_youth/facts_for_families/FFF-Guide/The-Teen-Brain-Behavior-Problem-Solving-and-Decision-Making-095.aspx

2. Campbell, L. (2018, June 27). Taking Too Many Selfies May be Bad for Your Teen’s Health. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/taking-too-many-selfies-may-be-bad-for-your-teens-health#1

3. Lenhart, A. (2015, April). Teen, Social Media and Technology Overview 2015. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/04/PI_TeensandTech_Update
2015_0409151.pdf

4. Whitbourne, S. K., Ph.D. (2016, April 19). 10 Ways to Learn to Like Yourself Better. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201604/10-ways-learn-yourself-better

5. Wolff, M., Psy.D, & Bridges, B., LMSW. (2016, November 21). The Great Disconnect: MegaHERTZ to MegaHURTZ. Lecture presented at AAA Technology Speaker Series in Forest Hills Fine Arts Center, Forest Hills.