I have spent the last 8 years working with over 1500 kids aged between 8 – 18 years of age in the following areas – Positive Self-Esteem, Social Media Awareness, Bullying, Exam Pressures, Friendship Issues, Coping Skills and many more.
One of the serious concerns I have with social media in our kids lives is the negative effect it has on their self-esteem. Self-esteem will determine every decision our kids make, whether at home, in school or with their peers. Will they learn to believe in themselves or will they learn to put themselves down? Will they learn to value themselves?
Kids are learning to judge themselves by comparing themselves to others online. They are bombarded daily with images of their peers looking ‘perfect’, appearing ‘happy’, and with a busy social life. What they do not see is these same people when they are having a bad day, when they are feeling lonely, upset or angry. Social media allows anyone to show a snippet of their lives, and only the part they want people to see. Anyone trying to live up to these false expectations will find it impossible, and very damaging to their self-esteem. I see far too many 8-12 year olds who find it hard to ‘fit in’, far too many 13-18 year olds that have seriously low self-esteem. They are constantly comparing themselves to others online and find they always fall short. We need to help them to understand the reality of online worlds, how false they are. This needs to be explained from a very early age before they do damage to their own self-esteem.
Recent workshops with 17/18 year olds showed me how social media is effecting this age group today. Students are crying out for support on how to find a balance between their real world and their online world. Over 90% said they regret using their phones so much because;
lack of sleep
not enough study (phone free)
not enough time with family and ‘real’ friends
confusion around sexual relations
I asked them to write down the names of the top 10 people in their world on the worksheet – we then discussed whether they thought they spent enough time with these people without their phones. This was a real eye opener for them and many admitted they really wanted to see more of these people and turn their phone off, (even if only for 20 minutes). They had not thought about the impact of not spending time with the people who mattered most to them – they just presumed it is the norm to live on their phones.
Sleep problems are a growing concern with most age groups – whatever age I am working with the majority say they have their phones on in the bedroom at night. (Netflix and Gaming and Chatting) When we spoke about the effects of exhaustion –
lack of motivation, irritability, sleeping during the day, lack of time spent doing things they enjoyed (sport, art, reading etc) moodiness, relationship issues, communication issues – again they opened their eyes to see that this was something they could very easily control themselves.
Study – the amount of regret in this particular workshop was very upsetting – regret that they did not turn off their phones while studying, regret that they did not study instead of scrolling though the net at meaningless information. How sad is it that so many of our exam year students will not get the results they are capable of because they did not think about the effects of their phone on their study.
Relationships – the ongoing pattern is lack of face to face time spent with the important people in their lives. I tried to explain the implications of sitting with a special grandparent, parent, relation or friend with their head in a phone. The special moments missed, the conversations never had, the friendships lost – when I say they are crying out for support in this area I am not saying it lightly.
Online pornography is a growing industry and one that has to be controlled. The effects of porn on our kids lives is so damaging. In a recent Australian survey with teenagers, it showed the confusion with both male and female teens around sexual relationships. Who is explaining to our youth that porn is an industry that makes a lot of money. It is not the ‘Real World’. How can teens not be confused when they are seeing the use of the body in such disrespectful and disgusting ways. They only need to key in one word to get full on porn on their phones. What education are they receiving to help them to deal with this? Are we explaining the difference between real sexual relations and pornographic sexual relations. We are not. The implications of this is harrowing to say the least. What has happened to romance, first kisses, slow dances – I fully understand the world is changing but surely our kids deserve to understand what a mutual respectful loving relationship means. I am not talking about all kids here but in my working experience this is an area that is coming up more and more with all secondary school kids – 13-18 years of age.
We have a growing problem with mental health in this Country. The number of young people we are loosing to suicide and mental health issues daily is unacceptable on every level. What are we doing about it? Why do we not have a regular module in every school (starting around 5th class) on self-development – supporting our youth to live in this dangerous online world in a more confident, positive and happier manner. Prevention is key. I have seen so many kids who presume this is the only way to live because they have grown up with their phone as their 3rd hand. When we stop and talk and educate them – they get it. They want to change, they want to find a balance between their real world and their online world. Do they not deserve to get the support and education they need or will we just continue to presume they understand the implications of this and continue to see this mental health epidemic grow.
The amount of lonely kids, confused kids, angry kids, depressed kids, anxious kids I see is so sad – was this always the way? No it was not – there is huge change over the past 10 years in our young peoples mindset – it has to be addressed. They are intelligent, creative, loving, caring kids who are battling living in a world they do not understand – how can they understand it if we do not teach them?
We have to speak up – who cares more about our kids than us – their parents. If we do not speak up for them, who will?