Teens and the distorted reality of social media

Irving Berlin was an American composer and lyricist, widely known for some of the most popular all-American songs. He wrote hundreds of tunes, many of which became major hits, making him a celebrity before turning 30.

In addition to composing favorites such as “God Bless America” and “Easter Parade,” he also wrote “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” which ranks as a best-selling musical score to this day.

In an interview for the San Diego Union, cartoonist and illustrator Don Freeman asked Berlin: “Is there any question you’ve never been asked that you would like someone to ask you?”

“Yes, there is one,” the composer quickly replied. “And the question is this: ‘What do you think of the many songs you’ve written that didn’t become hits?’”

His unexpected answer is memorable: “My reply would be that I still think they are wonderful.”

The story made me think of a conversation I had with my teenage daughter last week. We talked about how so many teenagers struggle with feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and lack of confidence, to the extent that many kids are on medication for depression these days.

I remember fighting similar feelings as a teen, and I know that they are common during the teenage years, when so many kids struggle with their self-image and self-worth.

As a teenager, I remember thinking I was fat, ugly, loud, my nose was too big, my hair too awkward … and the list went on and on. Today I look at pictures of my youth and realize how mean I was to myself. I was my own worse bully and didn’t know it.

As hard as things might have been for teens in the mid-’80s, when top-models started strutting their curves in international catwalks, bringing beauty standards to unprecedented heights, they don’t compare to what kids face today.

Instagram, Snapchat, Photoshop and special filters have created an aura of plastic beauty that makes our girls and boys feel less than, every second they scroll down their smartphone’s screen.

And then there are the “likes.” Oh, brother! I recently read an article about young teens purchasing “likes” and followers on Instagram. That just takes the cake.

Indeed, it seems as if constant positive affirmation has become the measure of love for this generation. And I am afraid many adults from my generation and beyond are falling into the same trap.

As wonderful as social media can be — a place where I can find friends I haven’t seen in decades and a place where I can keep up with my family and friends who live 6,000 miles away — it can also be a place of downright pretense. On our social media walls, we make sure our houses are always clean, husbands and wives are always in their best behavior, and the camera angle always gets our good side (after 24 attempts and 3 filters, of course.)

That is why, to many teenagers, reality is becoming ever more distorted and they are increasingly harder on themselves. Therefore, it’s time we, parents, put down our own phones and come to their rescue. Quickly. Even if that means pulling them away from social media for a while.

As I discussed these issues with my daughter, I could not help but think about how Irving Berlin’s words reflect how God sees his children:

You and I may not always feel worthy, or beautiful. Our houses may not always look perfect, and we may have relationships that need serious work. We may not receive many likes from this world, and our life songs may not always become best-sellers, even among those who love us the most. But God loves the entire album, from our best hits, to the off-key chords. He has an unshakable love for whom he made. He loves our brokenness, forgives and restores when we fail. That’s the message we must repeat to ourselves, and convey to our children.

Patricia Holbrook is a Christian author, blogger and international speaker. Her book, “Twelve Inches,” is on sale at Barnes & Nobles, Amazon and retailers worldwide. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com.