*Written by guest blogger Katie Bassett who handles public relations for Safer-America, a consumer advocacy group that provides public safety awareness information.
Suicide continues to be the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24, indicating the severity of this issue for teenagers. Additionally, approximately 157,000 youth in this age group suffer from severe personal injuries due to attempted suicide each year. Causes for teenage suicide are widespread and some may include bullying, social rejection and isolation, academic struggles, relationship failures and depression.
Furthermore, some teens fantasize about an “ideal life” and compare that to their current lifestyle. Conformity is one of the biggest struggles teenagers will face, and this type of social pressure can be destructive. So where are teens being exposed to this “ideal life” and social conformity in our society today?
Behind the “ideal life”
The idea of what we should be doing has been broadcast all over the media for a long time. From the magazines about the latest fashion trends and diet fads, to the reality shows that teenagers spend hours watching, many teens form an idea of what they should look like and how they should act based on celebrities and other iconic imagery in the media. However, this generation, in particular, is experiencing a new outlet that has proven to damage teens’ personal perceptions and might be more influential than celebrity followings: social media.
Social media is a new outlet that has greatly shaped our generation; it has played an incredible role with how quickly we can receive news and network with friends and colleagues. We are now able to instantly share updates, content, pictures and videos about our personal lives with the community, which allows us to keep up with the latest happenings. However, we have also witnessed the negative effects of social media and social networking, particularly with teens. Many teenagers can portray an edited life on their social networking accounts that reflect this “ideal life” of perpetual bliss.
How do teenagers come up with the ideal life?
Where do teenagers come up with a sense of what an ideal life is? Many would now answer simply by looking at what their friends are posting. Pictures of beach sunsets and staged photos of friends laughing often flood social feeds and leave other teens feeling as if they are missing out on this “ideal life.” We saw specifically how Madison Holleran, a freshman at University of Pennsylvania, appeared to be successful and happy on her Instagram. However, she felt alone and lost in college. She saw her friends having the time of their lives via social media, which further isolated her feelings. Because of these social pressures along with other factors, Madison decided to end her life only six months after she started her freshman year.
How can I help a teen who is depressed or thinking about suicide?
Often teenagers get caught up in hyper-idealistic posts, which can lead to further depression. Below are some helpful pointers we can voice to teenagers who may be struggling:
- A picture or post doesn’t tell the entire story:
Everyone wants to share the coolest things they are doing with their followers and teenagers shouldn’t look at this as a competition.
- The difference between an ideal and real life:
Acknowledge what teens are seeing on social media. Everyone has as an image of their “ideal life,” and for a struggling teen, we want to help them see that he/she is not the only one that feels these pressures.
- Align your real self with your ideal self:
What is a struggling teen idolizing from these pictures? If it is a specific job or the idea of travelling, help that teen turn these fantasies into obtainable goals.
- Don’t be afraid to speak about your past:
Most feel isolated during their teenage years. If you are vocal and open about your past experiences as a teenager, many will feel more inclined to share any internal struggles.
- Reiterate their best attributes:
Most people look at what they need to improve on, instead of what they do well. Instead, help a struggling teen focus on all of the positive aspects in their life.
Be the change in a teen’s life and help prevent suicide. If we are more aware of the warning signs and can bring positive light to the social media pressures, we can help lower the rate of teenage suicide in the U.S.
If you know a child or young adult struggling with depression or experiencing thoughts of self-harm, contact our psychiatric hospitals at (913) 890-7468, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) immediately. If your child or teen is exhibiting challenging behaviors, you can also download this FREE Quick Assessment: Does My Child or Teen Need Professional Help?