Remember the movie Mean Girls? The one with Lindsay Lohan who plays the sixteen-year-old home-schooled girl in Africa, who returns to the US, to attend a public school? The movie looks at female high school social groups and the damaging effect they can have on girls.
Some things about growing up and school life never seem to change – like the desire to be liked, to part of the ‘in’ crowd - the cool kids. I went to high school in the late eighties to early nineties. At my local public co-ed high school, the bogans were the cool kids: with their desert boots and blonde tipped mullets, listening to Metallica.
I tried to look like them, but never made it out of the nerd group. Not until I went to an all-girls high school, where to my shock, my permed hair and teased fringe were not at all cool. Here, the preppy girls with their sleek, just washed hair were the cool kids. I wish the school had put that bit of advice in their information booklets.
The social media challenges young adults face
In many ways things have changed so much for teens these days, like the use of digital technology, mobile phones and social media. But the pressures of fitting in, being liked, and doing well are still there. Navigating these social challenges can be a confronting emotional and mental minefield. Research by The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed that 1 in 7 young people aged 4 – 17 years, had mental disorders in the previous 12 months in 2013-14.* See our article The Top Ten Issues For Teens here.
I’m seeing these challenges as the mother of two girls and the aunt of another. The girls face the relentless pressure to check their phones every few minutes, to post comments and images on Facebook and Instagram, to capture and share what they are doing at every moment. There is also the fear of missing out or of not being a good friend if they don’t respond instantly. Gossip and rumours spread much faster via social media. Cyber bullying can be quite vicious when the bullies feel free to say what they want in a text message or online instead of talking to someone face to face. Friendships are more easily tested and damaged.
Cyber bullying can affect self-esteem and mental health
My teenage niece Madie, fell in and out with a group of mean girls at school. An innocent action at a party was misunderstood and quickly escalated into hurtful words online. The girls, and one girl in particular, started spreading nasty rumours online. Madie felt powerless to protect and defend herself against the cyber bullying. Responding didn’t help – it just added fuel to the fire. She tried turning off her phone and stopped responding, but the messages just kept coming, baiting a response. The awful thing was it didn’t stop when the school day was over. It extended into the night and over the weekends too. Harmful words would await to be read when Madie turned on her phone again.
When your whole world is your group of high school friends, it’s amazing how quickly your world can come crashing down. And with that your self-esteem and confidence too.
Madie’s parents supported her the best they knew how – with practical advice to ignore the mean girls, turn off her phone, get off Facebook and delete her apps. But Madie didn’t feel like they really understood what she was going through. Fortunately she found the courage to speak to her Student Wellbeing Coordinator and a counsellor who was able to help her navigate through the social challenges at school and online. It helped that her counsellor was working with kids every day to solve similar problems to rebuild their self-esteem and confidence.
Free expert support is available
If your child needs help navigating through challenges like social media use and cyber bullying, friendships, anxiety and depression, counselling can help. Inspiro offers up to 12 free counselling sessions for eligible young adults aged 12 to 25 who live, work or study in the Yarra Ranges.
To learn more about Inspiro's Youth and Family Counselling services click here. Or call 9738 8801 to make an appointment with one of our counsellors.