Upward Social Comparison - A Key Factor in your Teenager's AnxietyMar 31, 2023
- Does your teenager complain about not being good enough? Not smart enough, not athletic enough, not pretty enough?
- Do they feel like their life is boring compared to other kids their age?
- Are they jealous of what others have?
Today we are going to explore how upward social comparison creates anxiety for your teenager and I will share a story that illustrates one way to overcome this destructive mindset.
Any parent with a teenager will tell you that there is a growing epidemic of anxiety with teens. One of the primary causes of this issue is upward social comparison. Teenagers today are constantly comparing themself and their lives to others that always seem smarter, more athletic, more popular, and prettier. Now some of you may be thinking that this type of comparison has been going on since the beginning of time. True.
So why has it turned into such a problem for today’s teen?
Consider this. You are a 16 year old girl in a small farm town 100 years ago… 1923. Who do you compare yourself to? There are only 6 other teenagers in your town and 4 of them are boys. No television. Your view of the outside world is limited to the magazine rack at the five and dime store in the neighboring town. Your social comparisons are limited to a very small group of people.
Let's move forward in time 50 years. You are a 16 year old girl in 1973. You live in a suburb of a mid-sized city. Who do you compare yourself to? Your field of view is limited to the other 500 teenagers in your high school and what you see on the 4 television stations you get on the one TV in the house. In this case, the opportunity for upward social comparison is greater but still limited to a relatively small community of similar people.
Now you are a 16 year old girl in 2023. It doesn’t matter where you live. You have access to literally millions of teenagers from all over the world via social media. The opportunity for upward social comparison has exploded and to make matters worse social media provides the ability to “create” the appearance of bigger and better life than what is really going on.
Your teenager has watched kid’s from across the world open acceptance letters from the school they couldn’t get into. They have seen amazing prom proposals that were better than the one they received or did. They have seen video from the party they weren’t invited to. All of this contributes to feelings of not being good enough or not belonging, which leads to amped up anxiety for today’s teenager.
So what can you do to help combat this growing anxiety?
One of the best lines of defense for your teenager’s anxiety is a strong connection to you and your family. The next time your teenager starts to feel left out or like they aren’t good enough this connection will provide a feeling of safety and a sense that they are loved unconditionally.
Connection is the key.
Here is the story I promised. One great way to build connection is with a shared experience. On a spring break trip to Florida my wife and our second youngest daughter created a shared experience by facing a fear together. The challenge has come to be known in our family as the “swing of death.” It is an amusement park ride where up to 3 people are strapped into a giant swing. The swing is pulled up to what appears to be several hundred feet. A countdown begins. At zero the cable is released and the riders plunge back toward the earth. My wife and daughter rode this ride together. Facing their fear of heights, being vulnerable, being courageous and experiencing the thrill together deepened their connection. This experience was something my daughter could go back to when she was feeling left out or needed to stand up to peer pressure. It brought back feelings of courage and the comfort of knowing that her mother was right beside her.
My recommendation is to create a shared experience. Find something meaningful or something that you have never done before to do with your teenager. Here are a few ideas:
- Take an art class at the local community center together
- Sign up and train for a 10k run together
- Take the fishing and camping trip you have always talked about
- Take a cooking class together
Or like my wife and daughter, face a fear together.
While you probably won’t be able to completely eliminate your teenager’s anxiety, deepening your connection so your son or daughter knows that they have a safe place to go where they are loved unconditionally will provide a great line of defense.
Your Family Enrichment Coach,