By Jessica Franklin | Photo Courtesy of Jessica Franklin
I snapped the picture of my 3-year-old proudly holding up his artwork and smiled. Ah, but look at the mess behind him. Quickly, I shoved the stack of papers and the dishes from breakfast off to the side, sufficiently out of the frame, and retook the picture. Satisfied, I posted it to my Facebook to share with faraway loved ones, and the “likes” came rolling in. By all appearances, my house was presentable. No one could see the mess I had so cleverly hidden from view.
This is not an uncommon occurrence in my life. I spend a great portion of my time crafting photos I feel comfortable sharing. My goal is not to deceive anyone, of course, but by nature I prefer to present a favorable image of my life. Whether it is the messy house, the often fussy infant daughter who others seem to think is always happy, or the hilarious banter between my husband and myself that no one would realize grows tiresome to me, there is a lot that Facebook does not see.
Social media is a relatively new phenomenon, with Facebook and MySpace hitting the scene in 2004 and other platforms following in the years to come, so studies on its effects on mental health are limited. However, research does suggest a correlation between time spent on social media and the presence of symptoms of depression. According to a study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, “Facebook use is linked to participants’ impression that other users are happier, as well as the feeling that ‘life is not fair.’”
My recognition of my own screening process caused me to wonder about that of my friends and family. Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say, and I can personally attest to this sentiment. For years I watched as my friends lived out their seemingly perfect lives on social media and would work myself into misery that my life was not measuring up. My experience is not unique. Millions of social media users struggle with this type of situation. “I have a few friends that have one or two kids and they always look like they have their lives together,” Carmen Newkirk, mother of three, said. “I usually have some sort of mess on my clothes, I’m late for everything and my house is always messy because of the kids.”
It is so very important to remember that we are comparing the raw footage of our own lives to the highlight reel of everyone we see online! Your witty friend probably spent several minutes editing that status to perfection. The sorority sister who seems to always look perfect probably is not posting pictures when she first rolls out of bed in the morning. The couple you think has the perfect marriage is not likely to share with the world the fights they have. This phenomenon is an illustration of the Social Comparison Theory in action, which essentially states that individuals need to reaffirm their own abilities or opinions by earning the validation (or, in Facebook terms, enough “likes”) of their friends and family. We likely present the best possible picture of ourselves and our lives so that our social circles will voice their approval or even admiration.
Now do not go swearing off Facebook just yet, because there is also a positive side. Meredith Talmage, mother of two small boys, points out that parents can gain “a lot of useful information by seeing things posted by other parents,” and she chooses to feel inspired rather than discouraged by the Pinterest projects she sees others doing. She also enjoys “being able to celebrate other parents having a good day or moment parenting.” Social media can also help keep you in contact with distant friends and family members that you may otherwise lose contact with.
The best thing to do is to limit social media use. You will enjoy the extra time being mentally present with your children, anyway. Beyond that, keep a clear perspective of what you are seeing, and remember to count your own blessings instead of everyone else’s!