Teenagers and the pressure of social media

We surveyed, 2,500 teenagers (13 – 19 years-old) around Ireland about mental health, and their thoughts for our ‘What’s Wrecking Your Head?‘ report. 

Social media was mentioned by many of the respondents as a source of tension between them and their parents.

External pressure

The teenagers who took part also spoke of the pressure they felt by their own social media use. This maybe something you’re all too aware of, as a parent.

During the teenage years, there can be an overwhelming need to fit in for a lot of young people. This means to look a certain way and engage in certain activities and behaviours.

To be seen

With the addition of social media in young people’s lives, there is immense sense of pressure to be seen, looking and behaving a certain way.

We’ve spoken to young people about the pressure they feel from social media, and while some of them are exhausted by it they find it nearly impossible to step away from.

Feeling inadequate

It would seem that a lot of the pressure is internalised from the messages they’re getting, making young people feel inadequate.

Pressure to look a certain way, be a certain way, to be doing the right things and putting your best ‘self’ forward, whatever that may be, they tell us.

Watch your own use

Being so connected is new to all of us, and we are all learning to manage our relationship with it. Whether you’re a very active social media user yourself or not, you can have bad habit about reading articles and emails on your phone, maybe more than you should.

Setting boundaries for social media

Obviously at ReachOut.com we’re advocates of technology, using online tools to let young people build their own resilience, connect with others, developing coping mechanisms and access support in way they’re comfortable with.

But, even we know breaks are needed.

The most important message to young people and parents about social media and phones is set some boundaries about screen time and stick to them. Take breaks and always remember you are allowed to take control of the things that make you feel bad.

Body image, mental health and teenagers

We ran a national survey in March, What’s Wrecking Your Head? and 2,500 teenagers across Ireland responded. 72% of those who took part named body image as a cause of stress.

Body imageBody image actually came third in the list, after school and exams, as causes of stress.

What is body image?

Body image is a person’s attitude towards their body.

There’s no question that concerns about body image can have an impact on mental health.

Appearance concerns

We are living in a world where women and men are appraised for their looks and people’s self-esteem is closely linked to their body image.

Worries about appearance can be all-consuming, concerning many things including teeth, skin, weight, height, body hair or build.

These can be particularly strong for young people, as they can feel pressure to conform to certain way of looking.

What can parents do to encourage positive body image?

Watch ‘body-shaming’ language

Young people can pick up negative or positive associations about their (or others’) body from home. Try not to dwell on negative terms like ‘fat’ or ‘too skinny’ when describing people.

‘Model’ positive body image

Be mindful of how you look at yourself and talk about yourself physically. ‘Modeling’ in this case means how you illustrate positive body image by how you behave towards yourself and this can have a huge impact.

Celebrate difference

When young people just ‘want to be like everyone else’ they may not appreciate their differences and it can be a tricky and stressful time for them. We are all different, which is a good thing and help them realise this.

Know who they admire

Discuss the different trends your son or daughter is following. It’s good to know what’s going on in their lives anyway, but knowing who they are fans of means you can explore some of the things they’re trying to copy, in a casual way.

Young people will be influenced by celebrities and their peers and there’s no harm in that. But, knowing who they’re aiming for can help you have realistic conversations.

Encourage activity

If young people get involved at a young age and continue to stay involved in sporting activities, they develop an appreciation for what their body can do and not just how it looks.

More than looks

Remind your son or daughter (and yourself) they are a person of value with opinions, experiences, ideas, emotions, likes, dislikes, fears and loves. They are more than the sum of their looks and should learn to not reduce others of that too.

Leaving and Junior Cert countdown

If you have a son or daughter on the run-up to the Leaving or Junior Cert this June, the whole household plays a role.

Youth Mental Health Ireland Exam StressIt can be a stressful time for everyone. There are ways to support the person in your family who is heading to toward their exams, by helping them get prepared and do the actual exams.

1. Emphasise downtime

Make sure they take regular breaks. That is, if they are in fact really hitting the books.

Breaks are important, for wellbeing as well as allowing them to process all the information they’re taking in.

2. Avoid threats

Be careful not to add to the stress students are already under by laying out the worst case scenario if they don’t do well.

3. Making a meal of it

Meals at regular times means they can be scheduled into their study timetable. If they manage to get into a bit of flow, they may want to eat at their desk, which can be OK from time-to-time. But, for the most part dinner together can also provide a much needed break for the student.

It can be a sacrifice for all the family, but try not to have junk food around the house, for the next two months anyway.

>>Read eating well for more.

4. Quality sleep is crucial

This cannot be underestimated. Sleep is necessary to refresh and restore the body and mind. The actual exams are a while away, so they need to not burn out in the lead-up or during the exams.

Regular exercise and daylight need to be worked into the study routine. Limit screen time before bed and encourage a good night’s sleep each night.

5. Watch for stress overload

If you can see they’re struggling, explore what’s going on for them together. Try to work out some solutions with each other, but let them air what’s going on first.

>>Read stress for more.

6. Manage your experience of school

Try not to project negative feelings you have about exams or school. It can be an easy thing to slip into, when you’re trying to show you understand the stress they might be experiencing.

Equally, if it was all easy for you and you were a top student, maybe now is not the time to share. Unless you can offer practical help, but ask first! Make sure to see if help is wanted before offering ‘helpful suggestions’.

7. More than the results

Self-compassion and good self-esteem will help young people know and realise they are more than their exam results if things don’t go well during the Leaving and Junior Cert exams.

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