Picture Perfect - The Power of Influencers on a Teen's Life


By Kirsten Rock Keogh


There’s no denying that social media plays a huge role in our daily lives. The younger generation of today have grown up not only knowing how to use social media but also relying on it for having fun, making and maintaining friendships, sharing interests and exploring identities. Undoubtedly there are many benefits that the social phenomenon has brought – keeping us connected to friends and family during lockdowns, to raising our knowledge and awareness on global events. However, these benefits can be outweighed by the rising concerns of our emotional and mental wellness, especially for teenagers.


The adolescent years aren’t just about the physical changes that occur to our body (hair and growth spurts… I’m still waiting for my extra few inches) or the sudden mood swings while hormones regulate themselves. It’s also a significant time for rapid cognitive development, where the brain is changing quickly and can be easily influenced. This can explain the rash, impulsive behaviour and motivation to impress being at the forefront of a teenager’s mind. The worry is that teenagers are no longer content with self-appraisal or in-person interactions with their friends and instead they’re forming identities based on likes, comments and followers.


Over the last decade we’ve seen the word influencer become prominent through the power and rippling effect of social media. It has shifted from celebrities grabbing our attention through more traditional channels (music, sport or entertainment) to individuals that have gained credibility by building a large following on social media through engaging content about their personal life, sharing their opinions and paid sponsorships.


Many of the teenagers I’ve spoken with have shared how easy it is to get captivated by the picture-perfect feeds of the accounts they follow and that it’s hard not fall into the trap of comparing themselves because they want to fit in, they want to be accepted by their peers/society and they feel this is only achievable by keeping up with the newest trend. I often find myself reflecting on my own teenager years and although we had social comparison (without the internet), it’s nowhere near the same as the 24/7 in your face nature of digital media.


Although most of them would describe a lot of the photos they see as being “fake” because of the manipulation of photoshop or attractive filters, they still found themselves preferring and aspiring to these edited images. They admit to spending hours taking hundreds of photos aiming for that perfect angle and lighting to capture that “perfect shot” and be “worthy” of sharing to their feed. Then comes the waiting game - waiting for those notifications of likes and comments to start flowing through and if they don’t, sadly they may face high levels of anxiety and/or criticism (self-narrative).


It’s not only about the images that are being posted, but equal importance being given to the messages that are being shared. These can influence food habits, career aspirations and even how teens perceive world events. Never has it been more important for today’s youth to be able to differentiate between the influencers voice and their own.


Parents and guardians can help teenagers become more mindful about their social media activity by encouraging them to get in touch with any feelings that pop up while using it – if they don’t feel like speaking, try suggesting them to keep a journal and write about it. If there is a lot of content that makes them feel bad about themselves, encourage them to unfollow and seek out other positive influencers that promote a healthy sense of well-being instead. Luckily for us, the UAE has many wonderful influencers that take their social responsibility seriously and promote self-love, positive body image and healthy values.


How to have a meaningful conversation about social media with your child


Parents have shared with me that they didn’t know how to approach this topic productively and had so many questions bubbling up that they felt lost on how to begin. They also shared their concerns about crossing that invisible line of ‘I’m your parent, I need to know what’s going on’ and ‘You’re growing up, I guess I need to give you more space to grow’. Firstly, it’s very normal to have many questions about social media and the relationship your child shares with it – it’s your natural instinct of wanting to protect and always have their best interest at heart.

When parents are looking to open up this conversation, one of my fundamental tips is to reflect on your teenage years – the last thing you wanted was to feel overwhelmed with questions or that you were being interviewed. Start the conversation with the aim of asking one or two questions where you’re expressing your interest and curiosity.


Other tips:

· Initiate the conversation when there’s no time pressure e.g., rushing to school/work

· Have it when there’s no other conflict/heavy discussion in place, especially around technology. Let it be a clean slate.

· Ask them open-ended questions as much as possible. Open and honest communications more often come from letting them do the talking, as teenagers want to be heard.

· Share your own experience. Try to keep it brief and relevant in your sharing but don’t be afraid to being honest as this will open a true dialogue together.

· Trust your judgement for matters where you feel you may need to intervene. Their safety is important and at times you may need to place some boundaries.


Although social media use and screen time have increased massively in the last decade and there are a lot of discussions about the negative effects, it would be impossible for parents to keep their teens offline forever. Instead, it’s important for parents to support their children prepare and manage life in a digital world. Teach them to be digitally smart and share their experiences regularly.


-

Happiness Coach & Intuitive Healer, Kirsten focuses a lot of her work on the power of self-narrative and emotional regulation. She began her own inner happiness journey while on sabbatical and found her purpose to support young adults overcome emotional challenges and become the hero of their own story. She enjoys writing to help connect and inspire those around her.


Instagram: @kirstenrockk

Website: mindfullila.com