My inner-16 year old made an appearance last Monday. I thought that I had left her behind, with all of her neediness and angst, but she followed me upstairs when I got home late from youth group. The house was dark and quiet as I crawled into bed beside my husband. My younger self wanted to wake him up to hear him say “I love you,” but instead I just inched closer to him.
Then and Now
There had been a particularly engaging conversation with the high school girls at youth group, where I work as a part-time leader. We’d been talking about our use of technology, about being more mindful of how we use our phones. The conversation drifted to social media, to our need for validation in the form of likes and comments, to the pain of discovering that our friends are hanging out without us, to our need for acceptance, inclusion, and belonging.
This social angst among teenagers is nothing new, of course, and listening to the girls put me right back into my 16 year-old shoes. But teenagers these days have it worse than I ever did. When I was younger, I would hear about people hanging out with me; I didn’t have to see the pictures, or scroll through video clips detailing exactly what I had missed.
Social media, for all the wonderful connection and communication it enables, has a dark side. It can amplify our feelings of loneliness, comparison, and jealousy. It can feed our anxiety and contribute to low self-esteem.
What I Wished I Could Say
My heart ached for these girls, each of them beautiful, talented, brimming with potential, but struggling with social anxiety, comparison, and their own sense of self-worth.
I wanted to tell them that one day, it would all get better! That one day, those feelings would magically disappear. And it’s true that as we age, we become more self-confident, more self-possessed, and (hopefully) more wise, less eager to impress or please the people around us.
But still, even at 37, I can admit that I struggle with comparison, self-worth, and acceptance.
No One is Immune
One day not too long ago, I was scrolling through Instagram when an image stopped me in my tracks: four of my good friends from the MOPS group I lead were at the hospital, visiting a mutual friend who had just given birth to baby girl. I was instinctively hurt that I hadn’t been invited. “Why didn’t they tell me? I would have come along!”
I stared at their smiling faces for a while until a more rational voice popped into my head: “All these moms know each other because of our MOPS group. This is exactly what’s supposed to happen. This is just proof that you did your job well: you facilitated these friendships and it’s awesome that they’re choosing to deepen those relationships outside of MOPS.”
I closed the app feeling better about myself, but how many times do I just keep scrolling, internalizing the message that I’m not enough, that everyone else is winning at life while I still struggle with my messy reality?
I didn’t have an easy answer for the high school girls that night: I’m not their mom, and I can’t impose limits on their phone use. But I’ve had a nagging question in the back of my mind for the better part of a week:
How can I monitor my own use of social media?
I’ve settled on a two-pronged approach that will help me to be more mindful when I use social media.
1. Name it
The first step in naming it is to be aware of how much time we spend on social media apps. An app like Moment can help track usage, but I also find it useful to analyze when I’m using the apps. First thing in the morning? Right before bed? Anytime I feel the slightest boredom?
The second step is to take note of our feelings when we’re using social media. As I’m scrolling, am I feeling sad? jealous? anxious? self-loathing? bored? entertained?
The awareness that comes from naming it will help us determine if we need to make any changes.
2. Reclaim it
If we’ve determined that our use of social media is unhealthy (or on the verge of unhealthy), then it’s time to experiment with some changes and reclaim our time.
- Customize your feed. Be ruthless in unfollowing accounts that portray a perfect, shiny life, those highly curated accounts that are meant to be inspiring but really just make you feel bad.
- Set time limits. If you want to cut back on the amount of time you spend on social media, consider an app like Flipd that will lock your phone for a certain amount of time (your social media apps will disappear but you can still receive calls and texts.)
- Find replacement behaviors. When you reach for your phone, are you craving connection? Try calling or FaceTiming a friend. Are you just bored? Borrow an e-book from the library and skim instead of scroll. It’s really hard to quit a habit without having something else in its place!
- Quit cold turkey. This is not for the faint of heart. Some might even say impossible, but I’ve known people who have pulled that trigger and never looked back. The trick is not to focus on the FOMO (fear of missing out) but to claim the JOMO (the JOY of missing out!)
What about you? Do you struggle with social media? How do you know when it’s time to make some changes? What tips and tricks have helped you? Let me know in the comments!
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