Behind the Scenes of Our Teen’s Selfie Society

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Did you know that posting a picture on Instagram at 7pm on Sunday produces more “likes” at a faster rate than posting at other times?

Did you know that posting two pictures in one day is frowned upon unless you add a disclaimer as to why it was necessary?

Did you know that many teens spend countless hours perusing social media feeds though never posting themselves because they feel like their life is not as exciting?

Did you know that social media has contributed greatly to teens’ skyrocketing struggles with comparisons, stress, depression, eating disorders and other related issues?

I have seen how social media is creating a false sense of closeness with online friends while deteriorating real life relationships; but I had no idea about all the “rules” and residual effects.  That is… until my teenage daughter confided in me about her eating disorder. 

After learning from her how social media had played a part in distorting her view of herself, I decided to conduct my own online anonymous teen survey*.  What I have discovered is an overwhelming number of teens who feel like they don’t measure up to their friends, teens stressed out by the pressure to succeed, and teens living under the weight of performance and perfection.

This is how it was for my daughter.  At the core of her eating disorder is not a food issue, but a heart condition.  It is no different than other outwardly manifested behaviors that are symptoms of something deeper going on.  The symptoms are not the root problem.

Struggling with comparison and feeling less-than is not something I would’ve expected her to deal with.  She is pretty, smart, talented and well-liked.  Others could easily feel the same way about her (that she is perfect) as she does in comparing herself to them.  

I point this out simply to make clear that the issues of comparison and not measuring up are affecting not only those teens on the outskirts or those who don’t quite fit in.  Based on survey results, girls and guys from public, private, and home school settings, Christians and non-Christians alike are feeling unworthy.  But in thinking no one else struggles in this way, they work hard to create an image that looks as if everything is great.

Because they believe popularity, beauty, recognition and acceptance are what will lead to a secure identity, they chase after these things. But these things were not meant to define them—nor are they big enough or valuable enough to give them worth. 

Only God can give them their true identity in him and in the gospel.  This is an identity that says:

  • “No matter how few comments I get on my photo, I am deeply loved.” 
  • “Even though I have messed up for the thousandth time, God calls me righteous.” 
  • “Although I didn’t make the team, get asked to the dance, ace the test, have as much money or look as pretty as __________, my significance and worth is in Christ.”  
  • “I don’t have to prove or elevate myself because God accepts me as I am and his opinion is the only one that matters.”

Knowing who Jesus is and what he has done for them—his perfect performance on their behalf—is the power that will enable them to quit trying to achieve an identity through their own performance.  But our teens need help seeing how their identity and worth is directly connected to Jesus.  Therefore, as parents and youth leaders, 

we must go behind the scenes of the external façade to get to the heart by refocusing their eyes on just one picture: the picture of our Savior at the cross. 

When this begins to happen, receiving “likes” on Instagram is no longer life or death. Being seen at every event or hanging out with only the most popular is no longer the idol it once was. Turning to food, alcohol or cutting to assuage their depression is no longer as tempting.  

Because of His great love for us, He willingly endured the wrath of the Father and the shame of the cross.  Understanding this sacrifice is key to understanding our worth and the message our teens need in order to find their true identity.  Only by the power of the gospel do we discover our value because of His worth! 

*Kristen needs hundreds more anonymous surveys filled out by teen girls to help with her next book project. Your help in circulating the following link to teenage girls is much appreciated: ow.ly/MiACF 

Join us for Rooted 2015, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore how the good news of God coming to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ offers student ministers and teenagers, hope, healing and connectedness.  

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