It’s easy to get swept up in a mindset of comparison when you’re a parent. It feels like in those first years, your child is set up against every other child. They should be hitting milestones by certain ages. Their weight and height are compared next to charts and percentages to help determine what is normal and what should be concerning. While many of these practices are used as guidelines and tools for monitoring health, it can easily progress into an unhealthy self-image as children get older and make their own observations about the world around them.
With so many people, even children and teens, living their lives in public platforms, it can become easy to get swept away in a comparison culture.
With rapidly changing bodies, fluctuation of hormones, and the added social pressures amplified by perfection in social media feeds, many kids can begin comparing their looks, talents, family, opportunities, and resources with those they see in person and online.
A study released in 2017 found that the number of children and adolescents admitted to children’s hospitals for thoughts of self-harm or suicide had more than doubled from 2008 to 2015, echoing trends in federal data. With teen and adolescent depression and suicide on the rise, it’s important that parents are mindful of how comparison plays a role in our kids’ mental health. Here are some tips for helping the kids in your life manage comparison in a healthy way.
Comparing Apples to Oranges
Encourage your kids to look past what they can see with their eyes and use their brains to apply logic. When we look at comparison as an opportunity for growth and expansion, the perspective shifts. Remind your kids that everyone starts somewhere and it’s never fair for them to compare their beginning to someone else’s middle. Ask them to reflect and share what they think is happening on the other end of the camera. Ask them to try and identify what filters were used on a particular photo and how they think it was edited. Remind them that nothing is usually as it seems and encourage them to find people who are speaking with truth and authenticity.
Build up their unique talents and qualities
When everyone around you is good at dancing, but you have two left feet, it’s easy to start feeling down about yourself. Ask your child to name the things they’re really good at and imagine a room full of people who were also good at that same thing. How does that feel different. Sometimes you need to seek out those who have common interests to build quality relationships, cultivate meaningful conversations, and strengthen self-confidence. Encourage them to lean into those talents and interests. Take them up yourself. Show up in support and use them to deepen your connection with them. Which, brings me to my next point.
Get connected inside the home
When kids have strong support systems built into their home life, it can be life-changing. When the whole world seems to be against you, but you know you can always come home to a household of people who love and support you unconditionally, it can make the outside noise seem dull and fading. Help them to celebrate their wins and see that they have someone in their corner. This invites them to open up and seek refuge when they’re struggling because they know they can be vulnerable without fear of judgement.
I feel like we’re just beginning to see the effects of a thriving comparison culture and as technology progresses, it’s important that we rival it with connection in our own homes so that our kids can grow up healthy physically and mentally no matter the outside pressures. What are some tools you use in your home to deal with comparison?