RU–Camden Researcher Offers Tips To Deal With Social Media Related Stress For Teens Over Holidays

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CAMDEN, N.J. — While the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, with the pressure to get a lot done in a little time, may be the cause of stress for many, some teens the holiday brings about another source of stress according to a Rutgers University–Camden researcher.

“For many young people, the holidays mean the added pressures of thinking about how they should look and behave in their social media posts,” Rutgers University–Camden researcher Charlotte Markey says.

Many teens experience what is called “appearance-related social media consciousness,” a phenomenon that could be exacerbated during the holiday season, according to Markey.

“They are living for what they will post later, as opposed to posting what they have already lived,” she says.

Markey, whose research examines issues related to developmental and health psychology, notes that study after study is increasingly showing the negative impact of social media on cultivating positive body images and eating behaviors.

“This is especially true for girls, who spend more time on social media than their male counterparts,” Markey, who is currently conducting a study in her lab that analyzes these negative effects among girls as they start puberty and gain access to social media, says.

Teens’ self-consciousness to look and behave in a socially acceptable way is more pronounced around the holidays, when there is a greater emphasis on taking and sharing pictures, Markey explained. The holidays, she notes, also mean more downtime from school and other scheduled activities, making it more likely that teens are on their devices and that social media is their primary means of interacting.

The psychology expert also notes that holidays make it more likely that teens are on their devices and that social media is their primary means of interacting.

“Whether they are opening gifts, doing fun things, or meeting up with friends and family, taking and posting pictures is what everyone does,” Markey says. “But with that comes a heightened awareness of how they are being viewed and the added pressures to present themselves favorably.”

According to Markey, there are several steps that can be taken to help teens deal with these stresses. She encourages parents and educators to remember the acronym FACE — Filter, Avoid, Careful of Comparisons, and Evaluate — when discussing these issues with them.

Teens should “Filter” what they do on social media, getting rid of influences from their online interactions that are harmful or distressing, Markey says.

“For instance, it’s a good thing for parents to talk to their kids about who they are following and why,” says Markey. “For adults, this tip might seem basic. But for young people, who are impressionable and trying to figure out who they are, it might not seem so obvious. If they are following someone who makes them feel inadequate, then they should stop.”

Markey says teens should “Avoid” using social media at least part of the time. Markey explained that, if teens can avoid checking social media for a day or even part of a day, then they can break the need to check it all the time.

Parents should teach kids to be “Careful of Comparisons.” Markey explains that kids lack any objectivity when it comes to judging themselves and often look to others’ appearances and accomplishments as a metric.

“It’s really easy for kids to feel inferior when they compare themselves to the highlight reels of other people’s lives online,” Markey states, noting that this can be especially disheartening when teens compare themselves to celebrities.

Finally, parents should “Evaluate” what their teens are seeing on social media and encourage them to do the same. She notes that teens aren’t cognizant that what they are often viewing online isn’t reality, but rather people’s calculated efforts to present their best selves. 

“When kids are more educated about what they are seeing, they are more apt not to see it as real life,” she says. “They learn to take things with a grain of salt.”

When all is said and done, according to Markey, social media doesn’t have to be a nagging source of stress for teens over the holidays. 

“You want to give them the perfect gift? It might be just to get them off social media this holiday season,” Markey says.