In 2015 when I wrote my book Face Time, and in 2016 when it was in the editing process, concern over social media and it’s connection to identity and mental health struggles were only beginning to surface. The eye-opening and heartbreaking information I gleaned from my teen survey in late 2014 that led to the book—such as the magnitude of social media comparison—was definitely not common knowledge yet. Since that time, copious research has confirmed what many of us, particularly women, know from experience: it’s not just preteen and teen girls struggling with comparisons and subsequent feelings of worthlessness. College women, young moms, and middle-aged adults are also vulnerable to the cultural premium placed on perfection.
Along with pressure to look perfect and perform perfectly in all spheres of our lives, anxiety over falling short and keeping up has taken a toll on our personal well-being and relationships. And although the forced slowdown from COVID-19 may have temporarily alleviated some stress, our normal hamster-wheel living, arguably maintained in order to measure up to cultural expectations, has led to skyrocketing stress, anxiety, and depression in recent years. Substance abuse, eating disorders, pornography, and suicidal ideation are also on the rise. And never have we been so lonely. None of us—teens and adults alike—avoid being shaped by technology and the selfie world in which we live.
Because this is true, parents of younger children are more fear filled than ever about the teen years ahead. Whereas on the opposite end of the spectrum, many parents of teens are unaware of the real struggles of their teens, or if they are, they have no idea what to do about it. To help us deal honestly with the root of our own struggles and encourage our children to do the same, here are three truths to counter the pseudo solutions of this world that even our Christian culture doesn’t always get straight.
1. The real problem is not this world.
As much as we want to blame culture (technology, materialism, sexual ethics, legalized drugs) as well as countless other influences including “bad” peer groups, these are symptoms of the real problem. The real problem is not this world, but our hearts bent toward the world. In our sin, we look to the created things instead of the Creator to give us what only God can. We think happiness is found in living our best life, which means giving into our every desire. We turn inward to self, thinking our appearance or our performance will deem us worthy. We buy into the lie that our value is wrapped up in how pretty, skinny, smart, successful, popular, powerful, or wealthy we are. But even then, it is not enough. We “need” everyone else to notice and adore us. For without others’ affirmation, acceptance, and love we crumble under the pressure of trying to measure up and feeling like we aren’t enough.
What this looks like for teens (and adults) is seeking after social media acceptance through likes, follows, and comments, starving and/or abusing our bodies, pretending to be okay but secretly falling apart, tearing others down, giving into peer pressure, forgoing boundaries, turning friendships into competition and on and on. It’s our hearts set on substitutionary saviors to give us worth that turns up worthless and leaves us desperate for something to affirm our longing to be great.
2. The real solution is not what this world thinks.
As much as parents desire for our kids to have a positive self-concept and high self-esteem, our focus on grades, athletics, accomplishments, and successes only adds to the false narrative that our worth is tied to our work. It is no different for us as we endlessly strive to be the best in every role we possess. Ironically, only the work and worth of Jesus can give us the secure identity we’re after. But until we know the freedom found in who Jesus is, we will continue down paths of empty destruction looking to secure what he has already accomplished.
On the cross when Jesus declared, “It is finished,” he was announcing that everything he came to do had been accomplished. He lived the perfect life that we could never achieve, but he did for us. He did it so we could stand before a holy God accepted as holy, perfect, and righteous ourselves. For those who are in Christ, his perfection is our true identity. Therefore, instead of working harder, we are called to rest in Jesus’s work for us.
3. The real change does not look like what you might think.
For many of us, we have a hard time accepting that we are enough in Christ. We struggle to get out from under the weight of condemnation telling us we are not good enough; that it is not finished. Therefore, we keep striving in our own effort. It is easy then as Christians to go on basing our standing on how well we are doing (or not doing). In the absence of struggle, we feel good about ourselves. But as you likely know, when we give in to temptation, we endlessly beat ourselves up.
For too many of us, we continue to mark our walk with the Lord according to our work. But real change is not getting better and better, it is growing in dependence on the Lord. It is seeing our weakness and boasting in his strength. It is more quickly confessing and seeing our need. In fact, with real change comes seeing more and more of our sin. As hard as it is to see sin, realizing the extent and acknowledging all the ways we look to false saviors is a good thing. For apart from seeing sin for what it is, we don’t know how desperately we need Jesus. But the more we know our need, the more we come to adore the One who gave his identity to us. Because he did, we don’t have to go on chasing after acceptance and love. So, the only way to combat this selfie world is to turn away from self-effort and believe in the One whose work secured our worth.
FACE TIME: YOUR IDENTITY IN A SELFIE WORLD
Social media constantly reminds you what others are doing, how they look, and who they are with. As you check your accounts (all the time!) it can be easy to think you aren’t measuring up. Face Time helps teen girls deal honestly and wisely with issues like body image, sex, dating, substance abuse, materialism, perfectionism, and comparison.