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Self-awareness and emotional regulation

We no longer live separate ‘online’ and ‘offline’ lives. Socialising, shopping, gaming, working and learning all happen across both – often at the same time. This makes it harder to identify when something online is affecting our wellbeing.

Digital self-awareness is essential for teens. Learning to manage its impact on their mood helps keep their wellbeing in balance. It can help them build their resilience and the control they feel over their lives.

It’s not something that happens overnight but there’s plenty of steps parents can take to support them: from figuring out how being online makes them feel, to boosting self-esteem, to challenging comparison.

How online makes them feel

Maybe you already have a good grasp of how long your teen spends on Instagram and what they get up to. But when it comes to their wellbeing, you might want to skip some of the questions you might have previously asked (for example, about screen time). Instead, try these:

  • How is being online making my teen feel?
  • Do they seem happy?
  • Do they have a good balance?
  • What can I tell from their mood, and how it changes?
  • Are they still taking part in hobbies they enjoyed? (Remember: leaving old hobbies behind is also part of growing up.)

Finding answers may not be instant, and these might not be things they look to you to discuss. They may not be able to confidently identify any problems by themselves either.

You might notice physical, emotional or behavioural cues like:

  • changes in their appearance, looking tired or not taking the same care over how they look.
  • seeming distracted, irritable or compelled to post or check online accounts.
  • reluctance or refusal to go to school, spend time with friends or take part in things you know they enjoy

These can develop suddenly or quietly over time, but can indicate something may be off-balance.

Of course, these can all also be signs of normal phases all adolescents go through. That’s why your parenting instincts are so important – so trust them.

How online makes them feel

Does your teen talk about themselves positively? Or do they highlight their (perceived) faults or put themselves down?

A loss of self-esteem can indicate many things – including that their digital wellbeing may not be OK.

It’s easy for them to compare what they see in the mirror to what they see online. But the faces in their social feeds might not even be real to begin with. Image filters and editing are sophisticated – to the point where it can be difficult to spot what is ‘genuine’.

You might notice your teen posting their own altered selfies and interpret this as self-criticism. It’s not unusual to want to look our best, but this could suggest they feel they need to keep up with what they see online.

Teens can also feel under pressure to rack up ‘likes’ on their posts and may delete images or take down content if they don’t feel it gets a strong enough positive reaction. Instagram and Facebook now offer the option to hide like counts: in both your feed and your personal posts.

Taking agency

If you’re concerned something is wrong, remind your teen that they have the power to switch things up.

We can passively consume what we see online without considering how it slowly impacts on how we feel. If they aren’t seeing things that make them feel good about themselves, then perhaps it's time to review who and what they follow – or how much.

Sometimes it can just be as simple as making sure they take a break. Teens and parents can both use screentime controls on Instagram to help manage this.

When it comes to protecting their wellbeing on Instagram, the unfollow button is one of the most powerful tools available. Encourage them to see their feed as their space to curate, and a ‘follow’ as a vote for the content they appreciate and enjoy.

Self-esteem is a sensitive subject, and it can be hard for teens to hear compliments for what they are when they’re feeling self-critical.

Try and bring up your concerns in a quiet moment when you are engaged in another activity. If they don’t want to talk, don’t push it. But try again at a suitable time.

Role-model, recongise and rectify

You can also help your teen by role-modelling self-management. Prioritise healthy habits like sleep, exercise and eating well. If you set tech family rules (like not using devices at the dinner table) try to follow these as well.

You could share any ways you support your own wellbeing – like mentioning an account you unfollowed, or one that makes you feel really positive. Simple asides, rather than formal conversations.

If your own wellbeing slips, maybe talk to them about that, too. Nobody gets it right 100% of the time. It doesn’t have to be negative: show your teen that you can recognise it and do something about it.

You’ll be modelling one element of resilience, and helping them to regulate themselves in the same way.

Need more advice? Read more Family Center articles here.