“Selfie”-Esteem – Mary Shuffleton, LPC, CGP

Parents intuitively know that social interactions are best practiced in person. This is, after all, how we developed social skills and confidence. Our relationship skills grew as we hung out with friends for hours on end. We talked, shared, had arguments, made up, remained silent, yelled, apologized, and resolved conflicts. As Winnie the Pooh might say, “We went nowhere and did nothing”. Our social learning took place on the playground, not in the classroom, on the front lawn, not on a baseball team. And we didn’t have cell phones, never mind social media platforms to help us connect with others. We practiced our newfound skills the old-fashioned way by seeing what worked and what didn’t through countless, small, real-time, verbal and non-verbal communications. With the information gathered from those interactions, we became more skilled and then more confident in our ability to navigate social situations and relationships.

Now that social activity takes place increasingly through social media and texting or through more productive, structured activities, the opportunity for face-to-face, experiential social learning has lessened. Kids today do a lot more of “something” to get them “somewhere” and, in so doing, they miss out on just being with others.

It’s tempting for parents to manage their own feelings of worry and helplessness about the impact of social media and cell phones by clamping down. ‘No cell phone. No internet. No social media. I don’t want you being cyber bullied or becoming video game addict. Done.’ Oh, if it were only that simple. This plan may work when your child is young. But what about when they become a teenager, when you are no longer your child’s manager but rather are moving into more of a consultant role. How will these protections hold up? Your teenager will need to learn how to navigate the on-line social waters and balance their in person relationships simultaneously, hopefully with you available for support and guidance.

There is no doubt kids are developing social skills differently than we did when we were kids. And, while social media and the internet offer many opportunities to broaden your child’s social world, they also miss out on the simple, yet critical free time we had to build ongoing relationships. On top of this, they must contend with the nearly constant in-your-face communication that technology produces. For many kids, teens and parents, social media is more of a stressor than a comfort. The skin-deep sense of connection of Instagram offers little solace for the teenager who struggles to interact with a peer offline or the kid who sees the world on-line as happy and connected while feeling alone and lonely themselves. Was it Teddy Roosevelt who said, “Comparisons are the thief of joy”? There is nothing like a barrage of curated happy posts to make anyone feel like a loser.

So what are parents to do! Turns out you still have lots of influence in the development of your child’s social confidence. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Help your child set healthy boundaries on screen time. Let’s face it, it’s not just kids who struggle with limiting time on these sites. Begin with yourself. Strategically put your cell phone away during family time. Focus on helping your child develop healthy habits that will stay with your child for a lifetime.
  2. With your child’s permission, enter their on-line world with openness and curiosity, not criticism or judgment. Ask them to help you understand why and how technology is important to them.
  3. Be more present to your child in the moment. Silence the voice in your head that says “I have to make dinner right now” or “You better get started on your homework”. Hang out with your child. You might surprise yourself and enjoy it!
  4. Help your child change their outlook towards posts. Help them stand back a bit and ask themselves the question, “How am I going to feel about this post a month from now?” Help them gain the perspective they need to minimize a post’s impact on mood and self-judgment.
  5. Protect bedtime. Kids need sleep. And studies indicate kids, especially teenagers do not get enough of it. Digital media before bed may negatively impact their sleep. Think about removing devices after lights out.
  6. Foster real-life friendships. Some kids who find it hard to connect with their peers may hide online. Encourage them to move beyond their comfort zones to socialize. Social downtime in the company of others is crucial for your child to build relationships and gain confidence.

In Step offers several group opportunities for pre-teens and teens that provide safe, real-time, experiential social interactions to support the development of self-esteem and social confidence.

Mary Shuffleton, LPC, CGP leads several of Social Confidence Groups for Girls (8-18). Utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy techniques as well as creative therapeutic activities including drama, art and movement, Mary creates a safe and trusting environment for group members to work together to experience growth and change.