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‘There’s one piece of advice I would give every teenage girl about life online.’

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If there’s one piece of advice I could give every teenage girl about life online, it’s this:  “Social media makes a wonderful servant and a terrible master.”

My dad gave me that advice once about money. But it’s equally true when it comes to our addiction to social media and devices.

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Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I loooooooove technology. Just looking at my iPhone gives me crazy heart eyes. I’ve been writing online for seven years. I operate a slew of social media accounts, which play a key role in my work as a writer. On top of that I’m paid to operate other people’s social media accounts on their behalf.

Being online, working online, communicating with friends and family and readers online is a pretty big part of what I do. BUT….

Whether it’s Instagram or Snapchat, WhatsApp or Skypechat, Facebook or even ye olde emails and text messaging … left unchecked, it all has the ability to ‘white ant’ our lives. That phone in our hand, our need to continually check and recheck and, err, recheck for likes and comments and shares – it continually distracts us from the people in front of us.

“Social media makes a wonderful servant and a terrible master.” (Image: Facebook)

Like termites our obsession with technology nibbles away at our most important relationships and gnaws away at the rituals and traditions that actually DO make us feel happier and more connected.

On top of the distraction is the trap of the compare and despair cycle.  Our feeds are full of HAIR GOALS!  DRESS GOALS!  THIGH GOALS! FRIEND GOALS! All with a few #soblesseds thrown in for good measure. Every single time we log on we’re seemingly reminded that the entire world is doing life better than us.

Going to more parties. Wearing better clothes. Looking happier. Skinnier. More successful. Let’s be honest, social media can make us feel in the loop and it’s a huge boredom buster but do any of us actually feel HAPPIER after we’ve logged on? Um, no.

"Being online, working online, communicating with friends and family and readers online is a pretty big part of what I do." (Image: Facebook)

So it was hardly surprising in May when yet another study (this time a UK study of 14-24 year olds by the Royal Society for Public Health)  found that social media was negatively impacting our mental health in particular our self-esteem and body image.

Key findings from Suncorp Australian Youth and Confidence Research Report into social media:

  • 57 per cent of girls compare themselves to others on social media versus 37 per cent of boys.
  • 53 per cent of girls wish that social media did not exist (versus 41 per cent of boys).
  • 66 per cent of girls state that getting likes on social media makes them feel good in comparison to 88 per cent of girls who agree that playing sport makes them feel great about themselves.

So where does that leave us?

Glad you asked.  The key to having a more positive experience online is channelling your inner-Beyonce and acting like a boss. You want to be online? Great - but you need to take control and make technology your servant.

Set boundaries

Stop rolling your eyes.  You know I’m right.  Every family is different but I think we can all agree that we need to treat ourselves like unruly, diabolical toddlers with no impulse control.  At the very least it should be no devices at the dinner table, no devices when you’re at dinner with friends, no internet past 9pm (if you’re a teen) and all devices charged in a central location during the night.

And what about Social Media Free Sunday? We need to live our lives instead of curating them.

Listen: Jane Martino talks about her screen time rules for her kids (post continues after audio...)

Protect your headspace

The goal for all of us whether you’re forty-five or fourteen is to make social media work FOR us not AGAINST us. What this means is that we need to take control of our feed. No more hate-reading certain celebs. No more following those people who leave us feeling less than (you know those people who only ever post brag-fests or ridiculously perfect moments. Oh come on! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out).

Instead fill your social media feeds with those people who uplift you and inspire you, those people who make you laugh and help you see the world through fresh eyes.

Suggestions include: Turia Pitt, Emma Watson, Tim Minchin, Michelle Obama, Poh Ling Yeow, Justin Trudeau, Orange Sky Laundry, Robert Hoge, Laura Geitz, Celeste Barber, Mia Freedman, Karni Liddell, A Mighty Girl, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Susan Carland, John Green and the Body Image Movement.

Appreciate your online friends, nurture your IRL friends

Research tells us that one of the biggest drivers of happiness are those authentic in-person friendships.  Being able to sit down with a trusted, loyal friend and debrief about life’s highs and lows is good for our mental and emotional well-being. So we want to always give priority and attention to those key in person friends – your tribe.  That’s not to say online friends aren’t also terrific. But amassing 637 friends isn’t going to make you happier.

"One of the biggest drivers of happiness are those authentic in-person friendships." (Image: Facebook)

So keep your online community in perspective. Those online peeps are a great cheer-squad for those moments when you want to celebrate (“I got my P Plates!”) because it costs people nothing to click like or love or crazy love-heart eyes at your good news. And they’re also a great hive mind when you have a conundrum and need some help (“I don’t know which memoir to choose for my English essay: Ugly or I Am Malala?????”)

It’s important to recognise that many people find their ‘tribe’ online when it comes to finding other people who share a specific interest or obsession. I get that. But for the most part you want to nurture your friendships offline more than on.

Seek help

Bookmark #TeamGirls - ReachOut, Netball Australia and Suncorp have joined forces to great a movement to help nurture our teen girls’ confidence in their bodies, in their abilities and in their ideas.  The website is a hub for a range of resources for parents including articles like this one.

Rebecca Sparrow is the author of Ask Me Anything (heartfelt answers to 65 anonymous questions from teenage girls) and Find Your Tribe (and 9 other things I wish I’d known in high school). She is an official ambassador of #TeamGirls, a national initiative by Suncorp with ReachOut and Netball Australia designed to help build confidence and self-esteem in young girls.

For any parents looking for tips on how they can help guide, support and improve and instil confidence in teenagers, check out the #TeamGirls content hub, here.

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