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STRESSED BY COMPARISON?
By Jodi Maurici from the Let Grow Project

Our kids are stressed out, but they don’t have to be. By helping manage social media and showing them that comparing themselves to others is unimportant and unhealthy, we can help our kids live a much more relaxed and happier life. With social media, you are constantly being compared and comparing yourself to others. Social comparison is a normal part of society. After all, “keeping up with the Joneses” is a cliche for a reason. In times past, this exposure to others— their purchases, achievements, daily life #wins, etc.—has been limited by proximity. But with social media, it doesn’t matter if someone is around the corner or on the other side of the world (posting vacay pics). We are exposed to the Joneses constantly—and so are our kids. One student argued that when her parents were kids, social comparison was not like it is today. Sure, there might have been comparisons every once in a while to friends or neighbors. But she said that today’s kids are constantly compared to what others—even kids they don’t know—have so-called achieved, whether it’s real or not. My 7th grad-ers seemed to validate my suspicions. One student told me that social media serves as a constant comparison, not only for them but for their parents. They told me that their parents are constantly obsessing on “mom” pages and then pressuring their children to achieve what other parents are posting about. Dr. Daniel Hutt is a clinical social worker and has a lot of experience working with kids with anxiety. He refers to this “as comparing yourself to an avatar that doesn’t really exist.” Using social media to always compare yourself to others leaves little time for students to engage in everyday activities, like playing, going out in nature, and just relaxing with friends, just for fun.

Constant competition and social media comparisons go well beyond the classroom.

It’s not just about academics or comparing students in the classroom. Kids today are being compared in every aspect of their lives, especially sports. It feels like you can’t go on social media without a parent boasting about how good their child is at a sport or about the AAU or club team their child is on. Sometimes those are just proud parents, posting something generally positive. But more often than not, it’s meant to showcase or prove their child’s high level of achieve-ment. One of my students told me, “I got off of all of my social media because I was constantly comparing myself to everyone, and my anxiety was through the roof. It was making me depressed because I couldn’t feel good about myself.” Another student told me, “Social media has made me lonelier than ever.”

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, people who spent two or more hours a day on social media were considerably more lonely than those who only spent 30 minutes or less. Students are reporting fewer close connections with others IRL (in real life), which results in increased anxiety overall. It’s no wonder anxiety is rising among teens.

Anxiety is no longer the exception—it’s the norm for many kids. An aspect contributing to student anxiety is the overexposure to fake news. So students see things on social media and online that just makes them nervous and scared. Often, parents aren’t helping either. Many of my students tell me their parents catastrophize everything, leaving them fearful of even the smallest things. We are constantly telling students, with our words and our actions, what they must do to compete in this world. This has turned into helicopter parenting, lawnmower parenting, and a lot more hovering in general. As a result, our kids are far less prepared to survive in this world on their own.

I have to say, I think that’s sound advice. In a society where 1 in 3 teenagers is diagnosed with anxiety and the suicide rate has increased by more than 50% in the past 10 years, it’s imperative that we turn the tides to help our children. Hutt says parents can help. “It is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children to become autonomous and self-governing,” he says. “Teach them safety skills and not to be over sensitive to potential dangers in the world.” Realistically the world is safer today than ever before. However, social media often tells a different story, and it’s not helping any of us. It’s actually even hurting our children’s social and emotional development.

What can we do to help our kids positively engage with social me-dia and deal with anxiety?

• Limit social media. - This is the single biggest thing we can do now. Let the whole family put their phones away at night.

• Discuss real versus fake news. - It’s time to take a closer look at media literacy, both at home and in our schools.

• Tell your kids you love them no matter what. - This might seem obvious, but kids need to hear it. Tell them you’re proud of them, whether or not they’re doing something that is “postable.”

• Help kids develop protective factors. - This includes self-esteem and confidence. You want them to be able to handle anything that comes their way.

• Let them figure it out on their own. -As adults, we often want to step in, but we need to let kids learn from their own mistakes. In addi-tion, don’t be afraid to mess up in front of your children. Let them see you make a mistake and recover.

• Don’t compare. – Your kids are your kids, and you love them just the way they are. Everybody has their own specialness.

• Have face-to-face conversations with your child. - It’s still important for kids to be able to communicate verbally, not just via text or other written words. That communication goes both ways, too. Parents need to role model good listening skills.

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