The globe seems to be entering into the “New Normal” with world and nation-wide shifts. An eruption of positive changes seems to be occurring. Humanity was able to view evidence of how detrimental we were being to mother nature while we were stuck inside under quarantine.
Significant awareness has been raised calling out for the importance of mental health for both children and adults. And lastly, the important Black Lives Matter campaign has stretched across the world gaining new voices and recognition, inspiring and educating millions about their movement and the justice that they deserve.
Social media has become a way to get live updates about important issues, causes, news, and images. Social media has been the social connection to the outer world for many while countries were under lock down.
As with all things, social media has its benefits, but it also has its negatives. It can portray a false reality, especially the images, an online fantasy not reflecting real life. It is quite easy as an adult to get sucked into the fairy-tale of social media images, far less a teenager or child who follows the latest influencers across the various platforms from Instagram, to YouTube to TikTok.
It is crucial now more than ever before that parents communicate and stay connected with their children. We are all coming out from a traumatic experience, anxiety has heightened, sadness was a common emotion, grief was felt and we had a constant attachment to screens. It was common for everyone to compare what was going on in their life to what they were seeing on their favourite social media platform. If a mother couldn’t help but feel like she was not being a good mom while scrolling her newsfeed seeing other moms working and still having the time to bake flawless desserts, we can’t expect our children not to also do the same comparison of themselves to others as well.
The fact is yes, this edited fantasy-land has been around for a while, I can count over 20 free apps that are focused on photo editing for faces, body shape and smoothing, but have parents actually sat and thought about the impact this can have on your child? Have parents gone beyond thinking about the impact of cyber-bullying? Have they thought beyond the obsession with materialistic things? Have parents thought about how a fake reality can cause an unhealthy obsession with a perfect body? Have they thought about their daughters standing in front of a mirror pulling and tugging at their skin and what they consider unwanted body weight? Or their sons standing in front of a mirror searching for biceps and triceps muscles and six-pack abs thinking they are unattractive?
Children are becoming more and more at risk for developing Body Dysmorphic Disorder with this constant desire to reach a body perfection that does not exist in the real world. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health disorder in which you cannot stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that appears minor or cannot be seen by others. But you may feel so embarrassed, ashamed, and anxious that you may avoid many social situations. With this constant preoccupation teenagers can further develop eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety, and risky behaviours such as extreme diets or surgical interventions to try and change their appearance.
Pay attention to your children, if your daughter is begging to go to Starbucks to make sure she has a cup to pose in a picture for Instagram, and then works out for two hours because she had a drink from Starbucks, she may be attempting to keep up with that fantasy world. If your son is focused on working out morning and evening and is using every protein and workout supplement under the sun, schoolwork is no longer a priority, he may also be reaching for a reality that does not exist.
If “Likes” from friends and thousands of strangers or thousands of views are your child’s form of validation and how they build their self-esteem, then it is time to self-reflect on your parenting. Have you been their number one fan? Have you been having those difficult discussions about body image? Have you sat and listened to what they are interested in? Or have you been the parent too tired to engage in conversations? Are conversations more directing orders or shouting matches? Have you quarrelled that you don’t understand how they could like that “type” of music or watch “that” television show?
Now is the moment to find the time to spend those quality minutes with your child. Talk rather than shout. Banter in conversation rather than downplay or put down what they are interested in. Be mindful of your words and model self-love – talk about yourself in a positive way, talk about the things you have, the life you have in a positive way. Let your children know that the life that they live when their screens are closed or off is their reality. A reality where they are loved, and if they are struggling in their true reality – do not buff them! Start with the simple question – How can I help?
Maybe they need you to give them more positive attention, maybe they need to seek professional help to love themselves. But most of all what they need is a safe, non-judgemental place - a parent they can come to when they are being sucked into a world that exists only through a filtered, airbrushed, photoshopped image.