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Social comparisons are overwhelming in today’s world, especially with our lives on social media. People are constantly updating their social media with tik-tok videos, snap chat maps, photos on Instagram, and more. For teens, this can create a world of social comparison which can leave them feeling better, and sometimes far, far worse.
Social comparisons are generally considered a typical, evolutionary human behavior in which we compare ourselves to one another to learn to live together, learn from one another, and work to our fullest potential. Quite simply, people seek self-evaluation. Social Comparison Theory is credited to Leon Festinger, developed in 1954.
There are two types of social comparison. The first, upward social comparison, is where people feel better off, feel more hopeful, and can be inspired when they look at other people’s lives. People with relatively high self-esteem and low stress may be more likely to experience upward social comparison. Seeing other’s situations can leave them feeling at an advantage, better about themselves, and drive them to perform at a higher level.
In contrast, downward social comparison is where looking at other peoples’ situations make one feel far worse about themselves, can worsen self-esteem, increase stress, and lower mood.
Social comparisons for teens occur on social media, at school, and at any kind of gathering including: activities, sports, family functions, and even trips to the store. Teens may be especially prone to social comparisons, as they experience a developmental phenomenon credited to Erik Erikson coined the “imaginary audience.” Erikson proposed that teens may believe that many people are watching them, causing them to become self-conscious or feel a need to impress. Add the imaginary audience to teens’ social lives, and teens may be ripe for a great deal of such social comparing.
So, how can you help?
First, remember that some social comparisons are POSITIVE. Social comparisons may boost your child’s esteem, make them feel more skilled and/or smarter, and create a drive to improve.
When social comparisons turn NEGATIVE, they may hinder your child’s self-esteem, impact their mood, create stress, and cause emotional distress. They may even leave your child unmotivated and envious.
Some helpful tips for you as you work through Social Comparisons with Your Children:
This question helps your child reflect on the comparison and decide for themselves if it is an upward or downward social comparison.
2. Don’t compare your child to other children.
Comparisons between children are hurtful and can encourage unnecessary social comparisons. Celebrate the individuality of your children.
3. Avoid Downward Social Comparisons Yourself
Avoiding these negative social comparisons to model healthy behaviors for your child and teach them how to cope with emotions like stress and envy.
4. Limit Social Media as Needed
If you find your child is having trouble coping with the social comparisons on social media, limit their use. It takes a great deal of maturity to use social media and handle number the “likes” and lack of comments. Your child may simply not be ready for this environment, or may choose not to expose themselves to it.
5. Share How You Feel When You Socially Compare
Sharing your experiences with social comparison may normalize the experience for your child and help them cope.
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