I honestly don't know what life would have looked like for me if I'd had social media as a teenager. The amount of anxiety about friends and boys I endured in my formative years was already monumental. Do you remember those days? Constantly wondering if your friends still liked you, if they were talking behind your back, if they were deliberately leaving you out of things, if a certain person liked you, if ANY person liked you, if you were worthy of ANYONE liking you EVER? Back in the late '90's and 2000's terms like anxiety or social anxiety weren't used. No one talked about mental health in those days and they certainly didn't acknowledge that children and teenagers could experience those things. But we did. That heavy feeling sitting on our little chests when we watched our friends whisper together and then look our way. Our bodies flushing hot with shame and embarrassment any time someone laughed at a mistake we made. The pure, unadulterated desperation of just needing to be validated in any way was all-consuming.
Now, imagine adding social media into that dynamic.
Recently, my stepdaughter came to me and was upset because she realized that 3 people from her school unfriended her on Snapchat. My knee jerk reaction was to say "Why do you care? Are they people that are worthy of your friendship and energy anyway?" Which didn't help the situation AT ALL.
I have a group chat with 4 of my friends from high school. It's one of the most important things in my life. There's something about having women that I can call on for support, who have known me basically my entire life and have watched me grow up. One of these women is a dance teacher and when I talked about my stepdaughter's Snapchat dilemma in our group chat, this friend, who is quite literally in the trenches of teenage drama with her students, said something super impactful. She said: "It may seem dumb, but these numbers are their currency. The amount of followers they have, the amount of likes they get really affects their self worth."
So how do we balance this with our kids who are growing up in the sparkly, shiny, complicated days of social media? I think it starts at the top by developing a healthy relationship with social media ourselves and then leading by example.
I don't find myself getting hung up on my numbers. Do I want more followers and engagement? Of course! I want to be able to use my creative outlet to build a community and, if I'm being honest, a stream of income from brand marketing. To build a community on social media, you need numbers because, hello algorithm. To build a stream of income by collaborating with brands you need numbers because you need to be able to prove to the brand that you can deliver. But if I have a day where I lose 50 followers because they weren't on board with something I posted, I don't let it bother me. I've learned to compartmentalize and separate my worth as a human from my analytics.
For kids, it's sometimes not that easy. When it comes down to the bare bones of it all, what our kids (and ourselves) ultimately want is validation. Listening to our kids and validating their feelings about friendships and social media is paramount. Just listening. Then, relate it back to your own feelings and how you deal with it. Validate their self worth within your own four walls so that when they're sucked into their social media (which they inevitably will be from time to time), they can bounce back from whatever losses they might experience.
Additionally, it's okay if you struggle with separating your own worth from your social media numbers, too. If losing a follower means a lot to you, that's ok. Your feelings are valid. Just remember that while the numbers may reflect a certain level of validation to you, they're not the whole picture of who you are. You're made up of much more than that.