A online popularity contest

The basic foundation around all social medias is that they are social. They revolve around the interactions between people and that rely on users having friends or followers. The terminology changes from platform to platform but the premise is the same. Friends are normally, in theory, people that the user has an in person relationship with where the friends would like to follow each other’s “life updates” through posts. Followers are slightly different, a follower could be someone you have never met and who you may not choose to follow in return.

What do friends and followers have in common? We want their likes. We are looking for thumbs up on our photos, videos and status updates. Somewhere along the line, Social media went from sharing your life with your friends online to a digital popularity contest. It is often used to measure the success of a social media post and gauge beliefs or the opinions of others.  While this can have its place, it can also bring a number of social pressures, particularly if users start to question their own levels of popularity. This is especially mentally dangerous for the youth.

What do parents need to know about the language of likes and followers?

Building a following

Children struggling with the pressure of keeping up with their peers may feel the need to increase their friend count or following and so resort to measures that could cause trouble. They could choose to remove their privacy settings and keep their accounts open for strangers to view and then end up collecting “fake” friends from complete strangers. This potentially opens them up to online bullies, trolls and strangers who could have far more sinister intentions.

Keeping up

Once they have built up a significant number of followers, your child may feel pressured to be constantly posting new content. This may push them into oversharing or posting anything inappropriate that has not been properly thought through.

Hand in hand with the constant posting comes the never ending monitoring of said posts. This finds children checking their phones far more often than is necessary to see how many likes they have accumulated, but before you know it, this behaviour has contributed to digital addiction.

Envy and competition

Competitive nature can come into play quite seriously when it happens to drive their gain in followers. Children will often compare the number of friends or followers they have with that of their friends at school. Should they have far less, it can lead to jealousy and desperation to increase their following to prove that they too, are popular. This distress often leads people to make poor decisions that affect their welfare and safety.

Falling followers

While an enlarged following can lead children to feeling happy and popular, should their following fall it can leave them feeling unpopular and rejected. If your child is particularly hooked on social media, this drop in followers can have a serious effect on their self-esteem and feeling of acceptance by their peers which often has effects on their offline lives as well as their mental or emotional well-being.

Filtered world view

Along with wanting followers, you can be sure that your child is doing some following too and has liked posts by some of their favourite celebrities or social influencers. (See our social influencers video for more on this). However, social media is flooded with posts that do not truly represent the real world or real appearances. Children could be striving to achieve a look or a lifestyle that is simply unrealistic.

So how can we help them?

Safety first

Help your children to control who they let into their online world and why it is important to keep that tight. Remind them that they wouldn’t just randomly trust a stranger that walked up to them in a shop and said “Hey, wanna be my friend” or “Can I just follow you around and watch what you are up to?”

No. Not cool. The same thing goes for friends and followers online.

To prevent interaction with some potentially dodgy strangers, help your child to set up all the privacy settings on whatever platform they are using to control who sees their posts or messages them.

Know what they are up to

One of the wisest things you can do is join them on the online world to see what they see.

By being their friend or follower, you can see what they are up to and what interests them and by following what they follow you can see what is influencing them. However, please don’t be the parent that comments on all of their posts. Teenagers especially are still trying to be cool… and mom commenting on a post saying “Good job Sweetie, Mummy is proud of you!” doesn’t help with their swag or cool online persona. It could also be the cause of constant bullying so we would suggest that you rather give them a hug and say that to their face .

Remind them of the real world

Be the voice of reason that regularly reminds your child that there is a real world away from social media. Chat to them about online perceptions and remind them that their life online should be a limited extension of their real life and not an image of they think the world wants to see. Let them know that they are unique and wonderful just the way they are so they don’t need to feel pressured to post things that are fake, irresponsible or inappropriate.

Real world has real friends

Talk to them about what true friendship looks like. Real friends are the people who are with you through the good times or the bad and have your back no matter what. A large online following and the so called “popularity” that follows, can come and go like the wind but real friends are always there.

Take care of their mental health

Here are some key points to help keep their mental status healthy:

  • Encourage them to talk about their feelings before they post about their feelings
  • Remind them that real life is not dependent on what happens online
  • Encourage them to participate in sports or hobbies that do not involve screens. It’s a good break for their minds and may boost their confidence.
  • Speaking of confidence, be the voice of praise and positivity in their life. Listen to their struggles without minimizing and praise them for the things that you are proud of.

While the online world holds great power for entertainment, information and even to do good … it can also have a devastating effect on our society, relationships and worldview if we don’t temper it with a healthy dose of reality and what really matters.

Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart.

For more information on how to keep yourself, your business and your family safe online follow Cyber Angels SA on any of our Social Media channels. For any information regarding Cyberlinx Security services, please go to our website www.cyberlinx.co.za

Written by: Robyn Bartlett