Creative Child

I Like You, Not Just Your Squares

Helping Kids Find Meaningful Connection in the Social Media Era
by Rebecca Eanes





Our children see the world in pictures, and none of the pictures are real.

From edited TikTok videos with special effects, to beautifully curated and edited squares on IG, to wildly filtered photos on SnapChat and highlight reels on Facebook, today’s youth spends much of their time emerged in a world that suspends reality, scrapping for likes and comments on their false portrayals of self while feeding dopamine hits to 400 of their closest friends. 


The need for belonging is real, innate, and powerful. Early psychologists recognized the emotional need to be accepted into relationships with other people and to be part of a group. Abraham Maslow regarded belonging as the third most important in his hierarchy of needs, coming only behind the needs for sustenance and safety. John Bowlby recognized that this need was present at birth and that being accepted or not by our parents and caregivers had a lasting impact on attachment behaviors and wellbeing. Historically, we have satisfied our need for belonging through face-to-face interactions, but now, and particularly during this pandemic, we have increasingly relied on social media to meet this need.

Social connectedness is particularly important during adolescence as “adolescents who perceive a weaker sense of belonging among their peers are more likely to engage in maladaptive behaviors and experience negative emotions both concurrently and in the future.” (Source) Social connectedness contributes to levels of anxiety, loneliness, and depression as well as plays a role in the “cognitive representations that adolescents develop regarding who they are and their place in the world.” Therefore, it’s important to understand how these experiences are affected by social media.


Certainly social media can play both a positive and negative role in a teenager’s life. The research on this topic is still in its infancy, and results have been mixed. Some studies have reported that texting and social networking does help young people feel more connected to their peers which facilitates belonging while others have found that a sense of belonging is more likely to come from social networking for boys than it is for girls and can make adolescents more vulnerable to bullying and ostracism, which negatively impacts belonging. There is a lot we have left to learn about the impact of social media on the developing minds and self-images of our children and adolescents, but one thing is for certain - a thumbs up on Facebook isn’t enough to sustain them.

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