Was there ever a better example of a love-hate relationship than our relationship with social media? It lets us connect with those we love, meet new people, and learn about new ideas, but it can also be addicting and have negative effects on our mental health.
Many of us love to follow influencers, most often people we’ve never met, for inspiration on everything from personal style and home decor to parenting and community involvement. If your kids are on social media, they likely follow their own set of influencers for the same reasons you do—it’s fun to feel a connection with someone online and to see how they live. One of the most incredible things about technology is how it allows us to connect with and better understand others, and many of us have developed genuine friendships with influencers and others we interact with online.
However, social media influencers’ effect on society can lead to some negative effects like holding unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our families or comparing ourselves to others. Like with everything online, it’s good to be conscientious and smart with your social media use to avoid possible pitfalls—and the same applies to your kids.
How Do Social Media Influencers Affect Us?
Let’s start with the basics. Have you ever bought something you learned about from someone you follow and admire on social media? You’re not alone! Companies have realized that consumers trust each other more than they trust companies or traditional advertising, so they’ve started working with people to recommend their products to their circles.
That’s where influencers come in. If a company can find a person with a large social media following to recommend their product or service, they have an increased likelihood for sales. This type of advertising has created a whole new ecosystem on social media where influencers can make significant income through brand partnerships. It can really be a win-win-win situation. Brands have an effective way to get the word out about their product, influencers can be compensated for content creation, and consumers can learn from peers about products and services and consume awesome content.
However, it’s not always obvious what’s real and what’s not—at times, some influencers might promote something they haven’t used or don’t really like. And it can be difficult not to compare our lives to influencers’ lives. Social media influencers’ effect on society isn’t always positive. Navigating these waters is tough as adults, so imagine how difficult it can be for our kids.
Four Things to Teach Your Child
There can be negative effects of social media influencers on youth. Luckily, we can help our kids avoid these pitfalls by teaching them how to discern what’s real and what’s not on social media. Here are four quick principles you can use to help them understand how to avoid possible negative effects of social media influencers.
- Influencers are often paid by companies or given free products. We see influencers as inspirational figures and even friends—and often, they do become friendsbut companies see them as advertising platforms. When someone you follow on social media recommends that you buy something, look for hints like the post being labeled with “#ad” to help you know if they are being compensated to post about the product. Many influencers love connecting with people and recommending products and services they genuinely love, but it helps to be conscientious before making purchasing decisions. Just because someone online has it, doesn’t mean that you have to have it. Avoid impulse buys and give yourself time to think about whether you really need or want something before clicking through to purchase.
- Influencer marketing is a job. Because social media can be a significant source of income, many influencers treat it as their job, and they’re really good at it! That means that, often, their content is planned and polished. While it may feel like we should be able to easily recreate their beautiful, edited photo, we’ll soon find out that a curated Instagram feed takes a lot of work, sometimes by an entire team, not just an individual.
- Not everything is as it seems. It’s important to remember that often influencers are deliberate about what parts of their lives they share and how they present it. It makes sense—how comfortable would you feel with sharing every single detail of your life publicly online? Influencers may share a lot of the best things about their lives and not as much about their struggles. All the work they put in can create beautiful social media accounts, but it doesn’t always represent reality, and that can be hard to remember for us consumers.
- Try not to compare your life to theirs. When you consider that these influencers are paid to make recommendations, that they treat social media as a job, and that they can sometimes present only a curated version of their lives, it makes sense that we wouldn’t want to compare our lives to theirs. Teach your kids they shouldn’t take everything they see on social media as truth and to try to avoid comparing themselves to others online (and in general).
The Good News
Like almost everything else on the Internet, there are risks involved with putting too much stock in social media influencers. Thankfully, the social landscape is evolving, and people are being more genuine and open about how they make their feeds look so good, what is and isn’t an ad, and their own challenges.
We can help our kids avoid possible negative effects of social media influencers on youth by having open conversations with them and teaching them to be smart about the content they consume. We can also help them develop confidence and high self-esteem so that it’s easier not to compare themselves to others. When they know what to expect and understand what’s going on behind the screen, they’ll be able to make informed decisions and be less negatively impacted.