Self-compassion, gratitude and protective filtering as educational tools to reduce the impact of social media use.
The digital landscape is expanding in both capacity and popularity every day, particularly within the social media realm. Over eight in ten Australians now possess a social media profile, and these figures are even higher in younger populations. It will be no surprise to anyone working in a school environment that social media is currently having a harmful impact on our young people. The negative effects of exposure to media (particularly idealised media) has been extensively researched. However, social media provides a new challenge in this field, as it is almost unlimited in terms of both the content available and the amount of time individuals can spend on it.
Research has shown the detrimental associations from being exposed to ‘highlight reels’ on social media. This phenomenon relates to the overload of positive life events, successes and ‘perfect’ images prevalent on the news feeds of social networking sites. This concept has been linked to decreased life satisfaction as well as negative appearance-related outcomes, largely explained by the process of social comparison. One of the greatest changes to the media environment is that we no longer compare ourselves just to celebrities, models and athletes; we are now faced with comparing our bodies and our lifestyles to our friends and acquaintances. This is particularly difficult as they are seen to be a more relevant comparison target to us, therefore young people may internalise these comparisons to a greater degree.
As health teachers, we are faced with the challenge of providing solutions and strategies to attenuate these impacts, as they can often be brought into our classroom. It is unrealistic to expect any young person to remove themselves from the social media environment and media literacy is appearing limited in its current effectiveness, however, new research has indicated some protective measures, including self-compassion. Self-compassion refers to self-kindness instead of criticism, acceptance of flaws and greater appreciation of one’s positive qualities and characteristics. Recent studies have shown that viewing self-compassion imagery on social media increases body appreciation and reduces negative mood. These images often include things like quotes, artwork, poetry or scenery. Additionally, protective filtering may be an important theme to include in the classroom. This refers to engaging in a process of rationalising and rejecting messages which may be potentially harmful to one’s wellbeing, and instead internalising messages which emphasise empowerment and positive self-worth.
Young people tend to be relatively media literate nowadays, considering the editing processes they can engage with on sites such as Instagram and other photo enhancement apps. However, enabling them to critique and rationalise the messages sent to them through the media remains an essential skill for health educators to address. While emphasising resilience and self-esteem, it’s possible that gratitude may assist with these processes. By enabling young people to self-reflect on their own strengths, they may become able to appreciate the qualities of those around them without feeling envious or inferior. Although this trend appears to be much more popular with females, it is just as important to address this from a male perspective and challenge the gender stereotypes which may be preventing them from engaging in self-care processes.
Social media is here to stay, for now at least. As health educators, we are privileged to be able to influence these issues directly in our students. Self-worth is integral to the development of adolescents, and this is accentuated by feeling accepted by others. Therefore, lessons could involve assessing the qualities among us which are both similar and different, the characteristics which we admire in others in the classroom, critiquing and rationalising messages sent through social media and how to create empowering, constructive messages for others.
Carmen Papaluca is a current PhD candidate at UNDA, examining the influence of Instagram on body image and mental health outcomes in young females (2015-2018), and is currently teaching in the School of Health Sciences in a variety of health education units.
- “I don’t need people to tell me I’m pretty on social media”: A qualitative study of social media and body image in early adolescent girls.
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- Social network sites, friends, and celebrities: The roles of social comparison and celebrity involvement in adolescents’ body image dissatisfaction.
- A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes.
- # fitspo or# loveyourself? The impact of fitspiration and self-compassion Instagram images on women’s body image, self-compassion, and mood.
- Exercise to be fit, not skinny: The effect of fitspiration imagery on women’s body image.