Teenagers use Instagram and Snapchat all the time. Some of them use Facebook too, but I mostly hear about “Insta” and Snapchat. These are good tools of communication. They allow people to enjoy seeing what their friends are up to, which can be fun. More often than not though, I am hearing about hurt feelings as a result of these apps.
Teens that are constantly on these apps covet what their friends have. They covet the highlight reel of friends with boyfriends or girlfriends, friends with other friends, friends with good family relationships, friends doing fun things, and friends being recognized for achievements. They also covet their friends’ bodies, clothes and other material possessions. It’s an endless game of your teenager comparing himself or herself and thinking (s)he doesn’t measure up.
Covetousness is an ugly character trait. It seems harmless at first. Initially your teenager simply wishes (s)he had what “they” have. Then (s)he feels discontented with what (s)he has. Then (s)he begins to envy. From there flows a desire to take short-cuts. Short-cuts lead to lying, cheating, stealing and impatience. This is the mark of someone who needs instant gratification to be happy. People who live like that remind me of Esau from the Old Testament in the Bible. Esau traded everything that came with the Ancient Israelite tradition of being a firstborn son for a meal; he was hungry so he chose instant gratification. Your child wants to be loved, so (s)he becomes willing to be sexual with someone at a party instead of putting in all the work it takes to have a meaningful, loving relationship. Yes, I know this is an extreme example, but a covetous character really does lead to short-cuts, which can ultimately lead to a very hard road.
I am not blaming social media for the poor character trait of covetousness. That is something that comes from instant gratification. I will tell you though that the teenage clients I see who don’t really struggle with this also don’t spend much time on social media. While there isn’t causation, there does seem to be correlation. Just like drinking soda every day i9s correlated to obesity, using social media appears to be correlated to an envious character.
There’s an old adage that if you want to be thin hang out with thin people, and if you want to be wealthy hang out with wealthy people. Well, if you want a strong character, do what people with strong characters do. They use social media a little bit, but they don’t live on it. They don’t allow themselves to become so wrapped up in it that they start comparing what they see with their own lives. People of strong character simply tend to be busy doing other things than wishing they had what someone else has. I want this for your teenager too. I want your teen to develop sound character so that he or she will be a positive contribution to this world instead of someone who whines because life has been “hard” and “unfair.”
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT