Three times a year, that brown over-sized envelope would come home in our backpacks. It was before the internet, where our parents could check our progress on an on-going basis, and they waited to see what this paper portal to our academic world would show them.

Report cards. Love them or dread them, three times a year we would be evaluated, our academic worth laid out pragmatically, little room for interpretation. Kids today are less fortunate.

The Dark Side of Immediate Feedback

In addition to those periodic school reports, adolescents and young adults have taken up residence under that microscope. Everything they do is graded in one form or another. Through social media and technology, they live in a world of near-instant feedback. Rather than working on a task, following it through, and waiting to see the outcome, teens and young adults can post something, anything at all, and receive a response immediately. While they still wait for school reports, their every move is assigned subjective value.

The numbers are arbitrary in nature, but young people especially assign them value and, by extension, use them as measures of their own worth.

Social Media Addiction

How can we help our teens mitigate this problem? Let’s start with social media addiction. Carey Bentley, CEO of Lifehack Bootcamp, suggests we try these five things:

1. Figure out why you’re addicted to social media

Is it the instant gratification? Boredom? Maybe you are an introvert and this is your most comfortable form of communication. There is a myriad of reasons for being stuck to your device – but you can’t change things you don’t identify.

2. Make the itch harder to scratch

Carey suggests, “The second step is to implement three to four tactics that keep social media at arm’s length. These could include deleting social media apps from your phone, using a newsfeed blocker on your desktop, keeping your phone out of your bedroom, setting your phone to Do Not Disturb or turning off app notifications.”

3. Find alternative ways to respond to the itch

You figured out what drives you to overuse social media in step one. Now it’s time to replace social media with something healthier to satisfy that need. If you turn to your device when you’re bored, try grabbing a book instead. Feeling anxious? Take a walk or do some yoga. If you’re feeling the need for human interaction, visit a coffee shop or meet up with friends.

4. Implement multiple layers of accountability

Accountability and willpower… no one likes those words! But none of this works without them. Breaking a habit is hard, and sometimes you need someone or something to help keep you on track – maybe a buddy or an app. “A quick solution for accountability is to use an app,” says Carey. “Google ‘accountability app’ and choose one of the many options for external, unbiased accountability options. (There’s even one that donates to a cause you hate if you don’t reach your goals — how’s that for motivation?)”

5. Reward, reward, reward

Positive reinforcement works – just ask Pavlov’s dogs. If you associate these changes with something good, you’re more likely to keep it up. So treat yourself, you’ve earned it!

Teaching the Value of Self-Reliance and Self-Motivation

Of course, there is more to countering the effects of constantly feeling evaluated than breaking a social media addiction. Our teens must also figure out why they feel they need that validation. Part of our job as parents is to instill in them the notion of instrinsic motivation – that they should do things for their own satisfaction, and with their own steam, not to please others.

Perhaps we need a stronger focus on prevention as well. Just as we teach sex education to children before they are of an age to engage in sexual activity, we should be teaching social media literacy from a psychological perspective before children have access to their own social media accounts. Maybe if we can work on devaluing that instant feedback, we can help to give them the base they need to fall back on when the pull of the social media ‘likes’ becomes too strong.

We could put a higher focus on teaching self-evaluation, and the ability to think critically about all forms of feedback. This is useful outside the realm of social media as well. Whether it is a missed job opportunity, a low grade, or personal rejection, the ability to dissect what is an objective and fair criticism, and what is simply a mismatched fit for a position or relationship, can help keep things in perspective.

Teaching Kids To Deal With Rejection

Dealing with rejection in a healthy way is a learned, and vital, skill. The Child Mind Institute provides some great strategies:

Comfort and validate their feelings

It’s tempting to downplay or be dismissive of ours children and teens’ disappointment – but acknowledging their pain and their right to feel it lets them know it’s okay to feel the way they do.

Make Failing Safe

From an early age, give them the opportunity to fail. It is a gift. You don’t need to set them up to fail, just let it happen in a controlled environment. Of course, you are not going to allow your child to learn that skiing down an escalator will lead to certain failure, because that will almost certainly also lead to serious injury – but you might beat them at checkers. Or perhaps you don’t nag and cajole, and allow them to fail that test they didn’t take seriously. Teach them that failure is a learning opportunity, not a personal defect.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

We all know that line. Failure is not a period – it is a semi colon. Stop, look at what you learned, and apply it to another attempt.

Tie your children’s value to their character, not their achievements

This applies to their successes too. If they believe that they are good people because they achieved something, how will they feel when they inevitably don’t achieve as high? Praise their efforts, and who they are as people instead.

Take a back seat

It’s hard to watch your child struggle, but you have to let them figure things out for themselves. It’s how they become self-sufficient. Step in only when necessary. Be scaffolding – support them as they learn the necessary skills, then remove yourself and let them stand on their own.

Instead of villainizing social media, let’s give our young people the tools to handle its power and use it productively.


Heather M. Jones is a writer in Toronto and mom to two young boys. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.