I sent the group chat a message literally 10 minutes ago. Why aren’t they responding, are they mad? I can see they read it. Did I do something wrong? Maybe I annoyed them. Are they busy? No, they’re mad. Do they think I’m pushy? I shouldn’t have sent it. But I’m just trying to make plans with them, why would that be wrong? Maybe I’m not funny enough? Is it because I don’t have that many friends?
Social pressure can be best defined as the influence that society has on an individual – or for the purpose of this post, children and young adults. The scenario above is a representation of what can go through a child’s mind when they’re experiencing the pressure of wanting to fit in or being liked by others. This can also often lead to anxiety, which more children are experiencing today than just a few years ago. In fact, there was a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety in kids ages 6 to 17 from 2007 to 2012, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics with data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health.
The data on anxiety among 18- and 19-year-olds is even more concerning. Since 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA has been asking college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed” by all the tasks they were assigned to do. The first year, 18 percent of students replied yes. By 2000, that increased to 28 percent. Six years later, this number was nearly 41 percent.
There are many reasons. There’s more data available today than there was before that allows us to examine these numbers more in depth. There’s also more emphasis on “success” and “not failing”, more demanding tasks, more focus on “happiness”, joining sports teams, participating in enough activities, and parents pressuring children to do more of these activities. And then there’s digital devices and social media. A lot of times children have access to a computer or internet and are constantly connected to everything that is going on outside of their world. It never shuts down. So from the time they wake up in the morning to the time they go to sleep, they’re being pressured by somebody or something.
How many people have liked my picture? Are there any comments? Have I gained new followers?
How does this impact my child?
Continuous access to digital devices allows kids to escape emotions they deem as uncomfortable, like boredom, loneliness or sadness. Escaping to a cyber world lets them “do something” at all times, even when they’re away from situations or places that might make them feel pressured or anxious.
Their electronics have substituted opportunities to develop mental strength, such as coping with discomfort, spending time with their very own thoughts or connecting with others. These are basic skills we all need in our everyday lives.
Social media has created a culture of constant comparison and the need to portray a specific lifestyle. And this, in turn, adds to the social pressure of often feeling the need to “show” others what you’re doing and documenting everything.
Is it “kids just being kids” or should I be concerned?
Around age four to six, it’s normal for kids to want to play by themselves. However, once they get a little older and they refuse to talk to others because of their anxiety, that’s when you should start paying attention. If they don’t interact with other kids or don’t want to play, that’s when you want to reach out to them and check in. If they can’t feel like they can be themselves, struggle to adapt to their environment or start losing a sense of themselves because that hasn’t been developed yet, talk to them.
For teenagers, you’ll see their anxiety expressed more outwardly. It’s normal for them to want their own space and start developing relationships with others. However, if they want to stay at home a lot, they’re not talking to anybody or start avoiding activities that involve interacting with others, that should be a red flag.
They might have many friends on the internet, but it’s also important to have friends in real life so they can have meaningful conversations with others and develop basic social skills.
Is anyone to blame?
No! It’s not anything that anyone does wrong. It’s kids going through phases of life and learning how they cope with those phases. Most of the times, children want to be listened to without being judged. A good way to keep the pressure down is creating an environment where they can feel they can communicate with you without feeling judged. Don’t just dismiss certain behaviors because for children, events that might not seem like “a big deal” for parents can be a very big deal for them.
Don’t judge them or their friends. Give them correct alternatives but don’t force them into behaving a specific way. All children are different.
What can I do?
A lot, actually! Here are a few tips you can follow:
- Pay attention. Take some time with your child before bed or in the morning to talk.
- Encourage self-expression. Allow your child to express him or herself. Try things like art and music.
- Get them involved. Your child should engage in outside activities away from tablets and video games. They should also have interaction with their peers so they can learn appropriate social behaviors. At this age, you still have a lot of control over the activities your child does. Get them involved early on!
- Set family time. Without electronic devices! Playing a board game together, cooking together and building something together is always a good idea.
- Monitor access. Pay attention to their YouTube channels and the things they’re watching on TV. Be careful with the news, scary movies or shows that are not age appropriate.
- Know their social circles. Knowing their friend group and the kids they’re spending most of their time with is important. It’s OK to ask questions and want to be involved.
- Know their social media. It’s hard for parents to do this because very few kids, especially teens, want to be friends with their parents on social media. But this goes back to communication. If you can communicate with your child then you can know what’s going on and understand what pressure they have.
- Get them involved. Make sure they’re not spending all day in their rooms. Find some fun activities to do together, both in and out of the house.
- Make sure they have a schedule. Teens need structured time as much as possible to avoid any negative influences. You can’t sleep all day and stay up all night. Your child needs motivation and their body needs to be productive. It’s healthy to have proper sleeping hygiene and a routine.
- Open communication. Have family time without electronics. It’s crucial to have time set aside in your home where you can talk to each other and open conversations.
Ask questions, find resources and learn more at askAAMC.org/HealthyMinds.