Constant Comparisons: The Social Media Trap

While we were waiting to pick up our children from school the other day, another mother confessed to me that she was “taking a break” from Facebook because she noticed that her mood was beginning to take a dive; looking at her friends’ elaborate vacations, happy children, and exciting summer plans, in comparison, was causing her to feel pretty down. Of course, I explained to her that everyone on Facebook puts their best on display, not photos of their screaming children or unkempt houses, and of course, she already knew this. It just didn’t seem to help stave off those negative feelings.

Social media can have a very positive impact on people’s lives, especially in terms of feeling more connected with others, but for some, it can have just the opposite effect. In an online TIME article by Alexandra Sifferlin, “Why Facebook Makes You Feel Bad About Yourself,” the author reviewed recent findings from two German universities that examined social media use in 600 individuals. They found that “one in three felt worse after visiting the site – especially if they viewed vacation photos. Facebook frequenters who spend time on the site without posting their own content were also most likely to feel dissatisfied.” She went on to explain, “The most common cause of Facebook frustration came from users comparing themselves socially to their peers, while the second most common source of dissatisfaction was ‘lack of attention’ from having fewer comments, likes, and general feedback compared to friends.”

While we all know that we post our best on social media, it can be hard to keep in mind while using it, and failing to do so, for some, can have distressing consequences. In some cases, even knowing that what you’re seeing has been filtered does not prevent negative feelings. In these instances, it is important to protect oneself and take a break altogether from social media. Teenagers can be especially vulnerable to comparing themselves to peers, or worrying that a photo did not receive “enough likes.” Remember to speak with your children about social media, and even if it seems obvious, remind them that what people post does not reflect the full reality of their lives.