Social Media Is Not Your Friend

It's a time suck and a mood wrecker — if you're not careful

Terri Vaughn of Peoria, Illinois, is all over social media. She’s on Facebook daily, keeping up with friends and family. She checks Instagram to see the photos they post.

“I love the way it enables me to maintain long-distance relationships and interact with family members that I rarely see,” said Vaughn, a stay-at-home mom of two. “It’s easy to get lost in the land of social media for hours, always finding something new that I missed last time I looked — a recipe, prayer request, baby photo or news article.”

Facebook, Instagram, and other social media have become vital channels for daily interactions, helping people stay in touch, gather information, and share what matters most to them.

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But then there’s the drawback: that green-eyed monster, jealousy. People wonder: Just who are those moms with the perfectly coiffed kids? Who’s going on all those wonderful vacations, buying all sorts of nice, new stuff?

It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison trap, said Vaughn. And she doesn’t like it.

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“Social media can lead to a constant feeling of guilt and inadequacy,” Vaughn said. “We see others’ successes in areas where we may have failed. We feel inadequate if we are not able to provide the same things or experiences for our kids. The act of constant comparison causes unnecessary stress — you can always find someone to make you feel like not enough of a woman, a wife, or a mother.”

Social media, it seems, can ruin our perception of what it means to be a good mom.

“With its pervasive reach into most of our lives, social media can impact a parent negatively,” said Julie Barnhill, a parenting author and speaker and a mother of three grown children in Galesburg, Illinois. “With feeds and apps, I can now see how other parents live — well, what other parents decide what I get to see about how they live. And that has opened an entirely new can of parenting worms.”

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Why do we have such strong reactions to seeing other people’s depictions of their “perfect lives” on social media? Barnhill’s not entirely sure.

“Perhaps it feeds into a discontent with our lives. Perhaps we’re jealous but don’t want to admit it. Perhaps it reminds us of what we do not have, or have not managed to figure out. And perhaps it simply gets under our skin and we don’t like the man or woman we become in thought and actions when we allow that to happen.”

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Whatever the reason, this constant comparison to the lives of others is not anything new, said Meredith Gould, an author and digital communications consultant from Baltimore, Maryland. Back in the 19th century, sociologist Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption” to describe showing off expensive purchases to display wealth.

“These days, it’s all about conspicuous achievement,” said Gould. “The social behavior is nothing new, but social media has made it easier and faster to present achievements — and wealth — for comparison.”

But just because someone posts an adorable video of a precocious 4-year-old daughter gracefully dancing on stage doesn’t mean they’re making a dig at how your own child trips over her own feet.

In Gould’s newest book, “Desperately Seeking Spirituality,” she recommends embracing “delight” as a spiritual practice. “For some, sharing good things on social media is doing exactly that. And it raises the issue: Why can’t or why won’t people be happy for the good fortune of others?”

For moms who seriously feel badly about themselves after reading other people’s posts on social media, Gould’s advice is this: Get therapy.

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She’s only slightly kidding.

“No one and nothing can ‘make’ anyone feel badly,” Gould said. “Someone who is shame-based, or has an anxiety disorder or other issues would do well to notice the feelings, then get​ ​support — not a quick or easy fix.”

More realistically, every social media platform provides options to opt out of what you don’t want to see. On Facebook, for example, you can “unfollow” someone without “unfriending” that person — and never again see their posts. You can also click “see fewer posts like these” and rid your timeline of all pictures of kids (or puppies). On Twitter, you can use the “mute” function.

“I encourage people to learn how each platform actually works so they can better control who or what pops up on their screen,” Gould said. “I also encourage people to consider how social media might be a tool for self-awareness and growth — rather than a re-wounding.”

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