Teenage years are an important time for teens to form new relationships. Some of these relationships include social media influencers.
Teens want to fit in and feel accepted among friends. Influencers are often part of this fitting in process. Yet teenage children still want their parents’ support and love.
Caring parents want happy kids, so they buy stuff to meet their child’s wants and needs. But sometimes parents don’t want to pay for things that seem inessential, overpriced, or against values they live by. They may not see the hidden player in this tug-of-war: the social media influencer.
Peer Pressure, Anxiety, and the Impact of Social Media
The amount of peer pressure teens experience has exploded with social media. Influencers can have huge impact on what teens want to look like, do and what they talk about with each other. Teens rely on notifications on their phones to feel connected with friends. That’s how they stay updated. Because updates can be so frequent, kids listening for them may get no break from the pressure to keep up.
Social media influencers can ramp up levels of peer pressure beyond anything their parents knew. All kinds of media bombard teens with information about how they are supposed to dress, how to act, and what music, foods, and brands to like. This comes at a time when they’re already more vulnerable to peer influence. Some feel added pressure to adapt in ways that may not be a good fit for many reasons:
- Desired behaviors may not match the teen’s own personality
- Styles may not match the teen’s likes or preferences
- Clothes or devices may cost more than what parents can afford
- The timing may clash with parents’ readiness to buy or do things
- Behaviors and values may conflict with the ones parents want to support
We may not be aware of the extent to which social media influencers add pressure to family relationships.
A Definition of a Social Media Influencer
What is a social media influencer, and how do they play into pressures we see in family relationships?
Here’s a helpful definition of a social media influencer on Pixlee.com:
“A social media influencer is a user on social media who has established credibility in a specific industry. A social media influencer has access to a large audience and can persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach.”– Pixlee.com
This definition doesn’t address the connections that often exist between influencers and brands. It’s not a transparent process. Pixlee, for instance, helps brands “create relationships through their most passionate customers.” That means influencers are in business using their popularity with teens to foster brand affinity.
The Power Struggle Between Parents, Teens, Brands and Social Media Influencers
Influencers are not just social media personalities who loom large in a teen’s social life. They shape the choice of items kids are coaxing parents to buy.
Retailers are aware of this influence, and are using it:
“It’s perhaps no coincidence that Amazon.com is one of the online retailers that has seen the value of social media influencers for back-to-school sales. The company has partnered with popular social media personalities like Ava Phillippe and Olivia Jade to promote back-to-school storefronts.”– Matthew Stern in RetailWire, August 21, 2019
Influencers are in the business of promoting brands. Their impact can add to peer pressure, and increase friction between teens and parents about buying choices.
There’s Growing Emotional Pressure On Teens
Another way social media may impact teens emotionally is internal. We see social media use linked with anxiety teens feel within themselves.
Social media use may make teens feel even more self-conscious than they already do.
A recent study published in JAMA shows social media use linked with higher risk of mental health problems among adolescents. Teens aged 12-15 with 3 or more hours a day of social media use had much greater risk of “internalizing problems.” This is a group of disorders including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anorexia, and bulimia.
Not all experts see a link between social media and poor mental health. I agree this needs more study. However, many parents, public health officials and therapists like me are noticing rising in teen anxiety.
Let’s Acknowledge the Rise of Anxiety Among Adolescents
Anxiety disorders in children and teens has increased 20% over 5 years (2007-2012). Nearly a third of youth between 13-18 will experience an anxiety disorder, reports the National Institutes of Health. Another study found the number of children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thinking or self-harm had doubled from 2008-2015.
In my practice, teens express anxiety around the fear of not belonging, being unable to fit in. It’s hard for them if they feel they can’t keep up with friends through social media.
Children and teens have no choice about some of the factors that control their access to social media and text messaging among peers. This can increase a sense of being helpless.
For example, most parents control when and whether a kid gets a phone. It’s their right and their decision about whether a child gets a phone in elementary school, 7th or 8th grade, or high school. Parents determine what phone and features to buy.
However, teens experience feeling left out when peers stay in touch using their phones, and they can’t.
Parents’ Desire for Connection Is Healthy Too
Parents lament that kids are always looking down at a screen whenever a little chime or buzz goes off. Many parents have trouble relating to the attraction to social media because they don’t feel the same need to follow notifications.
Some parents turn to their own phones for connection, checking email or other messages. But a parent’s desire for connection with their teenage children is healthy and deserves attention.
Even as they encourage independence, it’s also important for parents to nurture an ongoing connection. A secure bond with a caring adult is an important resource that adolescents still need.
How to Have More Positive Influence as A Parent
As a parent, you may have more power than you think to influence healthy social media use. You can help by being curious and talking about relationship quality, healthy autonomy, and mental health with teenage children.
Parents can have a positive influence on their teen’s use of social media.
Parents can reduce the negative impact of social media for teens by:
- Setting rules for behavior. Ask that everyone turn off the phones at the table, or during a conversation.
- Exploring common interests. As a parent you might not care at all about Ariana Grande, for instance. But asking to hear what your child likes shows you care about them, what matters to them, and want to know who they are.
- Leading by example. Show interest in connecting personally. Encourage curiosity, exclusive attention, and witnessing emotions in person (with no devices around).
- Seeking compromises. If you’re not willing to pay for a phone, can you agree to pay for a data plan for the phone your child agrees to buy? If your child wants you to pay for something you think is overpriced, can you support and encourage the idea of buying it himself or herself?
- Providing alternative activities. Explore ways to feel good being together off the phone:
- Play a game
- Plan a car trip
- Ask your child to make a playlist for your travel time together
- Do a craft or hobby together
- Ask for their help with chores
At first, it may be hard to get your teen to cooperate. But building connections takes time.
Explore What is Important To Your Teen
Your child is becoming a young adult. Your relationship will evolve. Their teen years can be a great time to explore what is important to them, how their tastes, preferences and points of view are changing, and what emotions they feel.
As you offer to know more about your teen’s life, your relationship will benefit. Your children will value your effort to get to know and appreciate the young adults they are becoming.
We Are Here For You
In therapy we honor each person’s feelings. We witness and validate emotions.
We learn to ask questions to strengthen connections. To learn about how family counseling can serve your family call us at 703-768-6240