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Your path to emotional fitness

Are You at Risk of Facebook Envy?

Six steps to avoid negative comparison traps this holiday season.

With the holidays upon us, our Facebook feeds are probably filled with images of our friends and family members celebrating. We love the opportunity to share in the lives of people we care about even when they’re far away, but how often do we feel a twinge of envy when we’re looking at other people’s news feeds? During the holidays, we may think their parties look more enjoyable than ours. Our kids may feel envious of their friends’ gifts. Social media can make us feel insecure, causing envy and sadness.  

Such feelings aren’t relegated to the holiday season, and kids and adults alike struggle with them. Many of us experience this “Facebook envy”—what I call the negative comparison trap. A recent study found that one in three people registered feelings of envy, misery and loneliness after spending time browsing friends’ Facebook profiles. Social media has done much to improve our lives, but ironically it can also trigger problems for both kids and adults. When the negative comparison trap happens to us, it hurts; when it happens to our kids, it's devastating.

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So why not use the holidays as an opportunity to assess how social media use affects the people in your family, and to arm your kids with the tools they need to enjoy the season without falling into the envy trap? Below are six steps that can serve as a blueprint for avoiding negative comparisons, and helping your child stay emotionally healthy.

1) Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides: Profiles on social media often display what users want the world to see, not necessarily reality. People who feel the worst may be more likely to portray themselves in the best light on social media. Besides, other people’s lives or appearances should never be the gauge you use to determine your own value. When you are viewing someone else’s profile, approach with a critical eye. Their life may not actually be so great – and yours probably isn’t so bad.

2) Knowledge is power: Help your kids understand that comparison is natural, but it has a “dark side”: negative comparisons, and social media can make these worse.With social media, you can make dozens or hundreds of negative comparisons in just a few minutes. Just being aware of this can be effective, as it gives you a better chance of coping effectively.

3) Time’s up: If you or your child are struggling with negative comparisons, have a time limit on social media. This can minimize the damage by prohibiting the user from wallowing in low self-esteem for prolonged periods of time. Besides, limiting social media use allows for other, healthier activities and time spent with loved ones, which can boost your mood and appreciation of the good things in your life.

4) Stay off social media when sad: Depression creates the risk for making comparisons, as well as seeking out more negative comparisons. If you or your child are feeling blue, it’s time to do something else. Find a worthwhile activity, such as reading, or something you can do together. You can also perform mood boosters like exercising or spending time with friends and loved ones.

5) Go in with a plan, come out with a plan: To avoid the negative comparison trap, don’t surf profiles on social media. Only log in to Facebook and similar sites for a purpose, such as getting in touch with a friend or looking up a business. Make sure you know specifically what you are looking for, and always come out with a concrete plan. For example, if you want to get into better shape, log on to Facebook for information on gyms, and come out with a plan for which gyms you want to check out. 

6) You are the primary authority figure in your child’s life: Don’t feel powerless in this situation. Your child may not have the self-knowledge or the discipline to walk away from a situation that is fueling negativity and depression. They need you to take control and set some boundaries on social media use to guard your child’s emotional health.

Social media is simply a tool. It does not determine a person’s value, and it should not be used to make comparisons—whether positive or negative—with other people. This holiday season, remind your kids that they are special, regardless of how many “likes” they get on their profile picture. Help them avoid the negative comparison trap, and focus on the things that really matter. 

Michael Friedman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist specializing in how social relationships influence mental and physical health
    
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