Peer pressure. Whether you’re 13 or 30, this social phenomenon applies to you. The people you spend time with will inevitably impact your behavior. Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker and personal development author, once said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” And he’s talking about everything from their sense of humor and their mindset to their decision-making and habits.
Naturally, people who are responsible, successful, happy people can be a positive influence. On the other hand, time spent with people who engage in questionable activity can be a negative influence. That’s why it’s so important for each and every one of us to choose friends who model the ideals, behaviors, and goals we have for ourselves. This is particularly true for people struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorders.
Similar to bullying, peer pressure can be made even worse when social media is involved. Whether you’re at school, work, or home, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat are always there. Friends, relatives, and acquaintances are constantly posting pictures of their most reaction-worthy pastimes. In many cases, this means post after post of filtered selfies that make you question your beauty or wild nights that make drinking and drug use look cool.
And, as you eye the likes, comments, and shares of dozens, hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of fans and followers, it can be difficult not to feel jealous. In fact, you may even feel compelled to share something that will make you feel just as pretty or popular — even if that means doing something unhealthy or downright dangerous. Like traditional peer pressure, social media peer pressure can lead to poor body image, alcohol use, and depression.
The good news is, there are things you can do to minimize the negative effects of social media peer pressure. Whether you’re a concerned parent of a child who uses social media or someone who has experienced social media peer pressure personally, the following solutions are a good place to start.
Not unlike real life, who you interact with on social media is an important factor in reducing the harmful effects social media can have on your psyche. While you may aspire to be like the people you “follow” in some ways, a feed full of celebrities or personal friends who showcase perfect bodies, perfect parties, and overall perfect lives can do more harm than good.
So, be discerning when it comes to who you or your child follows. Pick people who share your values and interests. Stick with people close to your own age, and do your research about the types of companies and products they support. (Many YouTubers, bloggers, and Instagrammers are paid to place ads on their feeds.) Finally, avoid people who you know participate in unhealthy activities.
Most importantly, take stock of how you feel after a few minutes of looking through your social feeds. Be honest with yourself. Ideally, you will feel encouraged, motivated, and inspired. At the very least, you should feel the same as you did before you logged on. If you feel jealous, depressed, or uneasy, it might be time to hit the “unfollow” button.
Oftentimes, the pictures we post on social media do not truly reflect our actual lives. We can crop out, leave off, and fail to mention the toddler tantrum, the bad hair day, or the mess of a kitchen when we post that cute, mommy/daughter selfie, the outfit of the day, or the perfect tin of homemade muffins.
Choose to engage with people who aren’t afraid to share bits and pieces of their real, imperfect lives. Furthermore, if you struggle with mental illness, substance abuse, or an eating disorder, find people who are on the same journey. These virtual friends can offer support and encouragement, and they will be sensitive to your triggers.
Follow body positive hashtags, social media accounts devoted to recovery, and outspoken advocates for the issues that matter to you. In some cases, members of your online network can even turn into friends in real life over time. As with any friendship, start slowly, and be careful how much information you share about yourself.
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Find the Good
When it comes to social media, it’s not all negativity and bad influences. There is some evidence that, for many young people, social media makes them feel more confident and outgoing, and improves their social relationships. After all, who hasn’t felt a self-esteem boost from compliments on a recent selfie?
The media, however, tends to focus on the negative ways social media impacts us. Cases of extreme cyberbullying that lead to suicide come to mind. But, just as often, social media is used for good. People organize fundraisers, rally against social injustice, and raise awareness for the exact issues social media can exacerbate, like bullying and mental illness.
Look for ways to engage in the good and counteract the bad. Join a movement. Share an inspiring story. Even better, connect with people, events, and activities offline.
The truth is, the relationship between social media peer pressure and substance abuse disorders, as well as other issues, is not completely known. Unlike traditional peer pressure, which has been studied for decades, social media is relatively new and just now being researched. As experts learn more, they will undoubtedly share new strategies and tactics to reduce its negative impact.
In the meantime, the best option may be to just log off. Yes, you read that right. A “social media cleanse,” where you permanently disconnect from your social accounts, can positively impact your mental health in a variety of ways, from improved sleep and reduced anxiety to increased physical activity and more personal interactions. Anecdotally, people report feeling happier and more successful without the pressure of social media to be perfect.
If completely disconnecting from social media is not possible, consider lessening the time you spend online. Set a daily limit, eliminate some forms of social media while keeping others, or just make a conscious effort to put the phone or computer away during certain times of the day. Leave your devices in another room when you sit down for dinner, and don’t make online scrolling the last thing you do before you go to bed or the first thing you do when you wake up.
To put it bluntly, social media has similar qualities as addictive drugs. Over time, the short-term high that every notification, like, and follow provides can mimic that of cigarettes, alcohol, or illicit drugs. As a result, it can be equally difficult to put down the phone or shut the laptop as it is to stop a bad habit. It can even result in withdrawal symptoms.
In the end, social media’s role in your life is what you allow it to be. Being aware of the potential negative impacts means you can be proactive about avoiding them. After all, setting screen time limits isn’t just for children — it can be a healthy practice for anyone!
Just remember, nothing is as important as your health and well-being. So, if social media begins to threaten your state of mind, makes you question your worth, encourages unhealthy habits, or supersedes your real-life priorities, seek help. Consult with a friend or family member, talk to a therapist, or speak to your doctor.
- Bustle – 11 Empowering Body Positive Hashtags That Inspire Us To Love Our Bodies And Everyone Else’s Too
- CNN – The upside of selfies: Social media isn’t all bad for kids
- Self.com – 6 Potential Mental Health Benefits of Deleting Social Media
- Get Schooled – 10 Ways To Use Social Media For Good
- National Institute On Drug Abuse – Using social media to better understand, prevent, and treat substance use
- The Guardian News – Does quitting social media make you happier?
- Bloomberg – Social Media Looks Like the New Opiate of the Masses