There’s a land out there where everything is perfect. No one is ever sad. People go on trips all the time. They scale mountains. They paddleboard in the ocean. They’re at brunch with their friends. They eat the most amazing meals. Everything is perfect, and nothing is wrong. It’s a place where everyone likes what you do, and tells you how awesome your life is.
There’s a problem, though.
In this land, no one is as happy as they appear to be. It’s mostly a myth. This fantasy world is today’s social media landscape. For many of us, it’s a comparison trap. If we’re not posting something awesome, our friends usually are. Even though we may ‘like’ something, we’re often a little sad we aren’t doing something fun, too.
To complicate our ‘perfect’ social media presence even more, Facebook recently announced that they are releasing a ‘dislike’ button. “What [users] really want is the ability to express empathy,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained. “Not every moment is a good moment.”
Empathy is a good thing.
Many people are saying, “Finally, I have been waiting for this. I don’t want to like the post you wrote about your dog throwing up.” Others fear this change may usher in disaster for young people. “Disliking” has the potential to increase cyber-bullying and decrease a younger person’s willingness to share something honest on Facebook for fear of public ridicule. The opposite of empathy, handing out “dislikes” could foster callous social response in a climate that already feels like anything goes.
Regardless of what we think of the ‘dislike’ button, it’s happening. And we can’t avoid it. Here are 5 tips to better communicate with young people about social media in the coming presence of the ‘dislike’ button:
1. Say “I love you” and “I like you” more than simply liking their successes
The more adults tell young people that we like what they do, the more they feel like their identity is rooted in success or in a particular role. The more we tell them that we love—and like—who they are, the more their identity will be grounded in their inherent value as those who bear God’s image.
Some claim that narcissism is at an all-time high in our culture. Between reality TV, YouTube insta-stars, and social media, teenagers have learned that if they don’t get enough likes, they don’t matter. My cousin once told me that he was going to delete a picture we took together and posted on Instagram because it didn’t get enough likes. Wow. The more we say “I love who you are” to young people, the more this can help root their identity in something deeper than their own social media fame.
2. Be an active social media user, not a passive consumer
It’s easy to just consume Facebook. I could scroll through Facebook and never think twice about not actually interacting with people on the platform. I’ve seen too many cat videos, photos of someone’s lunch, and quotes from my friends about how much they love their girlfriend. It’s too much! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in that and begin to think, “Man, my life sucks.”
Being active on social media, posting on other people’s walls, and sending messages to friends helps break down the self-perception that we’re not valuable enough. When we reach out to people, they let us in to see that everything is not, after all, as perfect as it appears on Facebook. Encourage the teenagers in your life to do the same.
3. Remember that people only post highlights
Have you ever seen anyone post a picture of themselves deciding not to go the gym? Me either. However, I have seen countless photos of people during or right after their workout sharing how great they feel. People will hardly post those low moments where they decided not to go to they gym, got in a fight with their significant other, or failed a test that actually mattered to them. Social media is a fantasy world that only captures the highlights we want it to capture. Remind young people that everyone deals with pain and struggle in some way. They just might not show it on Facebook.
4. Be mindful of what you post and how others react
Social media is full of trolls. Go look at any celebrity’s profile and you’ll find that every post is met with a lot of both positive and negative feedback (yes, even Taylor Swift). Remind teenagers that when they post something, may not be received the same by everyone. Sometimes we just need to ignore the trolls and move on.
5. Encourage young people to spread kindness and actual empathy
Research is suggesting that today’s young people are actually getting nicer to each other. Perhaps in part because of social media, they have become more inclusive, empathetic, and welcoming towards others. Even before I wrote this post, I asked ten high school boys what they all thought of the dislike button. Every single one of them said they feared it would turn Facebook into a place of bullying. That’s what empathy actually looks like.
The truth is that our young people today have the opportunity to create the culture that they want to create. We have the opportunity as leaders and parents to encourage that. Let’s not allow “dislike” to have the last word.