Last week, we looked at adventures in middle school rejection and the “longing to belong” that can drive our decisions and relationships years later. This week, I’ve asked a friend to share her life-in-the-trenches parenting story of just how subtly the feelings of rejection and unworthiness can creep in. She and her husband have spent months encouraging and helping their lovely, talented daughter who found herself nearly wrecked by a constant barrage of social media content that left her feeling unworthy and unlovable. I think you’ll find what they’ve learned insightful and practical.
I don’t think social media is all bad—I’m not even going to talk about the stuff like pornography and cyber-bullying—but the last year or so at our house has shown us how it can be used in subtle ways in the battle for our kids’ hearts and minds.
Like many parents, I saw my shy children’s involvement in things like Instagram and Facebook as a positive step in drawing them out of their shells. It seemed like a good way for them to express themselves and to let their friends see how funny and talented that they are.
But sometimes even things that aren’t bad in themselves can be used by the enemy. Satan whispers, “You aren’t popular enough, pretty enough, smart enough.” Social media confirms those lies with pictures of beautiful people living happier, fuller lives with a hundred “likes” by others to prove it. Filters on pictures hide imperfections. Photoshopping creates the illusion of flawlessness. And in the midst of all this, teenagers look in the mirror and feel more inadequate and disillusioned by what they see.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point my oldest daughter started believing those lies of the deceiver. I started to notice that she would verbally put herself down to me. She would compare herself to her “happier, skinnier, more attractive” friends. No physical person ever attacked her—it was all a creation in her head that the enemy put there. No matter how much we tried to build her up, she had a hard time seeing her own value in comparison to what she believed from the pictures she saw online. We prayed for our daughter and encouraged her to see herself as we did, but to no avail.
Our collective breaking point came last fall after a social gathering of a couple of school groups proved too much for her to handle. She came home in tears, despairing that she was asked to be in photos with “the popular kids” and that she hadn’t even wanted to be in the pictures because she “was ugly.”
My heart ached. My beautiful, smart, talented girl could not see what we saw. It was then that we decided that she should speak with a Christian counselor. It would take many months of work to help her replace lies with the truth, but now that we’re seeing our daughter’s outlook completely changing, we wanted to share what we’ve been learning in hopes that it helps you, too.
- Help them replace the negative self-talk: The first thing our girl learned during counseling was that she needed to talk positively to herself. For all of the compliments and praise we provided, it was critically important that she tell herself that she was a beautiful creation of God’s; that He does not make mistakes. She began to internalize the good things we (and others) told her about herself but also the truth she told herself.
- Be a consistent and persistent voice of encouragement and truth: We worked diligently to build her up and to repair the damage from the enemy. We didn’t encourage her to have an inflated opinion of herself, but to believe God’s Word—that she is so precious to Him that He sent His Son to die for her. It took several months, but our daughter began to see what we see in her, and more importantly, to begin seeing what God sees in her.
- Don’t be afraid to enlist help: We knew we needed to do something more than what we were doing, so we turned to Christian counseling. We were more out of our depth than we had realized: the counselor was initially very concerned and told us that our daughter was extremely depressed. We were stunned and saddened that we had missed the warning signs, but we are so thankful for that “collective breaking point” that God used to point us in the right direction.
- Encourage them to examine their friend group and make changes if necessary: Our daughter began to include people in her friend group who actively encouraged her in her faith. This helped her to embrace the hope and future that God has planned for her.
- Limit social media time and content—and use technology to help: We thought just setting restrictions on phones and computers would be enough to keep all inappropriate websites out of our home. That’s still extremely important, but that didn’t solve the problem of content that wasn’t inappropriate but was still being used by the enemy to derail our daughter. In the last month, we’ve discovered the value of having different kinds of internet filters. We now have the Qustodio app not only to block inappropriate content but to monitor what websites are visited, search terms, and the amount of time spent online. (Covenant Eyes is another good option.) We don’t have to be the Internet police constantly standing over our children’s shoulders, and they are learning accountability through it. The time restrictions have especially been a blessing because it’s easy to lose track of how much time any of us spend online.
It’s a battleground out there, and as parents we’ve got to keep reminding our children of their value and teaching them how to speak truth into their own lives. We can’t let the enemy’s voice be louder or more persistent than the truth. We can’t be afraid to seek help, either, if the world is too much to handle alone. Above all, we’ve got to tell our kids that no amount of “likes” will ever be more powerful than God’s love.