Have you ever scrolled through Instagram and felt like everyone is better dressed, making more money, and having more fun than you? Comparing is human nature. According to Social Comparison Theory, a big part of our identity is shaped by how we think we measure up to others. But teenagers are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of self-comparison, including anxiety, depression, and harmful behaviors like eating disorders. These six strategies help protect your teen by putting a stop to self-comparison:

 

It may not seem like it, but your opinion of your teen truly is the one that matters most. Parents who compare their teens to others are usually trying to motivate them by giving a relatable example, like a successful older sibling or classmate. But anything that sounds even remotely like “Why can’t you be more like…?” is likely to backfire. It sends the message that you’re disappointed not just in their behavior, but in who they are as individuals. That leads to resentment, envy, anxiety, and a lack of trust. When you need to redirect their behavior, do so with concrete examples of your expectations and steer clear of comparisons.

 

Teens were comparing themselves to others long before social media became a thing, but the steady stream of envy-inducing photos and videos make it harder than ever to avoid. A recent study found that more social media use leads to greater envy, which leads to a higher risk of depression. Talk with your teen about the impact of social media on self-image and overall mental health. Help them stay self-aware and know when they need to unplug. Work together to come up with boundaries they can agree to, like turning phones off after a certain time and planning occasional phone-free fun with family and friends. 

 

Teens tend to negatively compare themselves to others when they’re already feeling down, like when they get a low grade or their crush is flirting with someone else. Help them identify the emotions that trigger self-criticism, like loneliness and boredom. Certain people and situations may also be triggering, like a “frenemy” who always makes them feel less-than. Make sure your teen is equipped with self-care practices to deal with triggers proactively. Exercise, mindful breathing, being in nature, hanging out with positive friends, or doing something they’re passionate about are all great places to start.

 

Remind your teen that when they compare themselves to others, they aren’t seeing the other person’s complete picture. Even when comparing themselves to friends, they don’t know all the things that person is dealing with on the inside. Everybody gets zits, gets dumped, has a bad day sometimes, and deals with low self-esteem once in a while. When they’re caught in a cycle of self-doubt, encourage your teen to redirect their focus inside and take stock of their own values, strengths and gifts. Help them remember to appreciate themselves as unique and perfectly imperfect, just like everybody else.

 

The emotions we experience when comparing ourselves to others– like bitterness, envy and resentment– feel awful. It may seem counterintuitive, but switching our mindset from envy to appreciation can help. Instead of resenting others, teens can learn to celebrate their accomplishments, talent or hard work. Appreciation lets us feel generous and open-hearted. Nurture the attitude that there is more than enough joy, success and abundance for everyone. Help your teen stay alert for feelings of envy and ask if they can imagine feeling inspired and motivated instead.

 

The most helpful form of comparison is when we compare ourselves now to how we used to be. When your teen compares themselves to others, teach them to refocus on themselves a few months or years ago. Can they see how much they have grown? Can they appreciate themselves for the efforts they have made? Can they be inspired by how much progress they’ll make in the future? This keeps the focus on their own vision and goals: the only ones that really matter. 

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