18-year-old model and ‘Instagram star’, Essena O’neill, recently hit the headlines by ‘quitting’ social media. The Australian teenager said that she felt she had been deluding her followers and herself by presenting her life through a heavily filtered and sponsored feed of photos, videos and blogs. Quitting YouTube, Snapchat and Tumblr (and setting up a new website and Vimeo channel in their place, but let’s gloss over that for a second) has created a storm as she decries that she is ‘so over’ social media’s fakery, encouraging her followers to instead get out into the ‘real world,’ without comparison to the bikini selifes and sunset shots that have made her a substantial living since the age of 15.
Although there’s something a little ironic about encouraging people to quit social media via your new social media channel, the core of O’neill’s message is important for our young people: ‘I told myself that when I have heaps of views, I will be valued. I will be happy… I had it all, and I was miserable.’ Comparison and not feeling good enough are not new concepts affecting young people; some may even argue that entering a phase of pronounced self-awareness is part of a person’s journey towards adulthood. But our young people now grow up though a digital adolescence, complete with 4G teenage angst and insta-filtered self-perception, which adds a new layer of continuous pressure. This kind of social media usage can have a profound effect. A recent University of Missouri study showed that increased usage of social media results in greater feelings of jealousy, which can, in turn, lead to depression.
At Golddigger Trust, we’re passionate about helping young people discover their true value and worth, building self-esteem in young people to empower them to change their worlds and the world around them. When I sit with broken young people, whether in secure mental health wards or coffee shops, I see their constant comparison to others, as they strive to overcome their deep suspicion that they are worthless. As our youth try to discover themselves and the character they want to be, are they instead just searching for the version of themselves that gets the most ‘likes’?
I love social media, but we must ensure we shine a light on the tricks and kicks of this digital world. In a society where mass approval is all that matters, let us be bringers of truth, where status as a child of God is ingrained at our young peoples’ core.
Beth Stout, Chief executive of Golddigger Trust.