I’ve been away in Thailand for a couple of weeks with my husband on his deployment holiday. During this trip I had a over week off social media (it’s been years since I fully disconnected and didn’t even look at other people’s posts!) and a two weeks away from work. As I rested during this time, I reflected on a lot of things, including many aspects of my work as editor of Eat Pray Workout. This role comes with a lot of time on social media and after some time without it, I really noticed the toll it has on my mind. It impacts my self worth, confidence, positivity and contentment. It’s not always immediately apparent, but often it subconsciously builds up and leads to negative thoughts and/or thought patterns for myself. If this is the affect it has on me, someone who is already very aware of the impact of social media can have, imagine how it is impacting younger women and girls who are both less aware and living the years of their lives where their core values, beliefs and outlooks on life are still being established. So this post has a few ideas of things we can do to help young women love and value themselves in a world of social media that screams ‘you’re not good enough’.
It’s no secret that along with growing social media we’ve seen a growth in the prevalence of mental health problems, especially in women.
Despite this, reading the cold hard facts can still be surprising:
- One in six Australians is currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both.
- The number of suicides by young women in Australia aged 14-25 years now exceeds that of young men.
- Women aged 18-24 years had the highest rate of psychological distress of any age group or sex in 2014-15.
- Half of all lifelong mental health problems begin before the age of 14.
Things we can practically do to reduce the negative impact of social media on young women/youth
So what can we do to reduce the impact social media has on young women in our life? Here’s a few tips, some you might even find helpful for your own life – I know I do!
Encourage awareness of who they’re following
We want to encourage young women to follow people with wholesome content. Content that is going to build us up, not tear us down. Sometimes it can be ‘entertaining’ to watch celebrities or outlandishly rich/fit/skinny/good looking people on social media but if it leaves you feeling inadequate or they share values or outlooks that are different to your own, then it’s not worth following them.
This is because what you put into your mind, affects what you get out of your mind. Think of it like a game of tug-o-war. On one side you have the characteristics of your ideal beautiful woman – for example mine would be: mentally & physically strong & healthy, confident, fear-free, self loving, self-aware and God seeking. You want these things to be the winning side. On the other side, are the things that eat away at each of these characteristics. For example, I know that I won’t feel fearless when I’ve spent too long looking at pictures of other people’s blogs on instagram. I worry that my blog isn’t good enough – not enough content, not an engaged enough audience, not a big enough audience. Likewise, looking at pictures of fitness celebrities whilst it can inspire occasionally and I can celebrate with their successes, I know that with my personality it will also lead me to frustration that I am not there too. Both are silly thought processes but I am aware that looking at these images are the things that pull me away from having the characteristics I really want.
So check with each person you’re following and say – is this person adding to the characteristics on the winning side of my tug-o-war or pulling me away from who I want to be? Remember you have the power to help shape yourself with what you put (or don’t put) into your mind. It’s okay to enjoy someone’s content occasionally but choose not follow it to avoid it appearing in your feed regularly if you find it leads you to negative thoughts.
We need to help our young women understand this. Mum’s and Dad’s this could be a good exercise to do with your high school kids on social media as it empowers them to decide who they are following as you guide them through identifying their values, feelings and also review their list of followers. I recommend making this something fun for them too, like take them out for a treat afternoon tea, or even chat about it as you go for a walk with them. Walking is a great way to start conversation.
Encourage time off social media
Time being disconnected doesn’t have to be for weeks at a time and is a bit unrealistic in our day and age. Setting aside time without your phone like weekends away, holidays, one weekend a month, or even just being without it at meal times is helpful. It allows our minds to roam where they want to, free from influence of others. Another important one is keeping your phone away from your bed at night so that you control the last thing you see/think before sleep – just one of the many benefits of not using your phone at night.
Teaching young women to think AND feel
It’s important that young women understand that ‘feeling’ a certain way doesn’t always mean the thoughts causing those feelings are true and correct. It’s important to know that you can change your feelings towards something overtime by recognising your response to a situation and correcting your thoughts if they don’t align with your values. One way you can correct a false or negative thought is through journaling. You could write about how you responded to a situation and what happened just before it to help yourself become aware of those things or to rebuild thought patterns you could write about the way God or someone that loves you sees you. You can also read aloud bible verses or positive affirmation quotes, if you don’t feel like journaling something. Creating positive thought patterns takes some effort, but is very powerful.
Encourage healthy sources of support
It’s important that everyone has some sources of support to reach out to. These might include an older friend/mentor/relative, a good peer support group, your Bible, self help books, etc.
There’s a new self-help book called ‘Well, This is Growing Up’ written specifically for teenage girls written by 24 year old teacher and model, Megan Street. I would recommend this for parents to give to their daughters, especially if you find they don’t want to share their struggles with you, or just even for a relatable and entertaining read for them. Megan wrote the book after losing a friend to suicide with the desire to address many of the issues teenagers face growing up in a hope to prevent other’s from feeling like there is no hope. It’s funny and reminds me of being written by a teenagers ‘big, cool friend’ who has wise advice. Megan even admits to still struggling with some of the challenges she addresses in her book. Like many of us, she says ‘Social media is a big one for everyone at the moment! It is hard not to compare our behind the scenes to every else’s highlight reel and feel crap about ourselves.’ To deal with this she finds physical exercise and emotional improvement helpful but she also aims to ‘balance her mind’ and says she ‘owe almost everything to meditation and prayer.’ NB: 10% of all profits from sales of Well This is Growing Up go to Beyondblue. The book is available for purchase at Leading book stores and online https://www.angusrobertson.com.au/books/well-this-is-growing-up-megan-street/p/9781921030604
It’s not all bad news
Despite the rise in mental health problems, on a positive note, support-seeking appears to be growing at a rapid rate, with around half of all people with a condition now getting treatment. The estimated population treatment rate for mental disorders in Australia increased from 37% in 2006–07 to 46% in 2009–10. We do still have a way to go, but just by checking in with one young girl you know about how social media is making her feel can spark conversations that are life changing. You don’t always have to go into as much depth as I’ve spoken about here, but making sure our young women feel connected, loved and valued just as they are right now, is the most important thing to help prevent mental health struggles.
 ABS National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007 (2008), p 41
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). Causes of Death, Australia, 2014. Catalogue No. 3303.0.Canberra: ABS. Accessed 2 March 2015 from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3303.0?OpenDocument
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). National Health Survey First Results – Australia 2014-15. Canberra: ABS.
 Kessler, RD et al. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62: p. 593-602.
 Whiteford, H. A., Buckingham, W. J., Harris, M. G., Burgess, P. M., Pirkis, J. E., Barendregt, J. J., & Hall, W. D. (2014). Estimating treatment rates for mental disorders in Australia. Australian Health Review, 38, 80–85
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