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The Power of Likes: what happens to your child’s brain on social media?

By on 12-17-2020

How receiving likes, or not, affects kids’ self esteem, mood and mental health

The power of "Likes" on the brain is tremendous. The brain’s response is similar to that obtained when making money. Every time we receive an acknowledgement through a like, our brain generates dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the sensation of reward, which is why several studies compare the effect of likes with drug use.

Likes, the popularity thermometer

Today a Like has become a requirement among kids and teens for being popular and, in many cases, it determines how children feel about themselves. It greatly influences their self-esteem and self-concept. For this generation that has grown up with social networks and adopted likes as a symbol of self worth and recognition, the number of followers and, above all, the number of likes has become a popularity thermometer.

Implications of the Tyranny of the Like 

This is the so-called “Tyranny of the Like”, in which more and more kids and teens are immersed today. For many kids, the digital world has become more important than the real one, to the point that it generates anxiety and self-esteem problems if they do not get the recognition from their followers or suffer rejection from them. This may lead to several implications: 

  • Children are no longer enjoying and having fun spontaneously. They dedicate themselves to planning, creating and posing for situations in which they can take the photo that gets the most likes.
  • Living with considerable anxiety hours after publishing a photograph, and checking the number of likes every few minutes in search of  the feeling of euphoria that each like generates. 
  • Feeling bad when they don't reach the expected number of likes. They are used to the speed of the internet, which causes them to quickly become frustrated if the photos they upload to Instagram do not receive many likes or views in their stories shortly after they are published or if they do not respond quickly on WhatsApp.
  • Searching for this approval from others can turn into an obsession or an addiction. The degree of emotional and psychological dependence that can be achieved at discharge.
  • Increased competition to see who is the happiest, most interesting, handsome, funny or accepted. The winners receive an emotional reward and the losers feel a high level of frustration.
  • Poor social skills in real life from reduced face-to-face interactions. 
  • Less sleep and sleep disorders amongst kids who wake up continually or at dawn to check their social networks.

For this generation, social profiles have become a showcase for narrating their lives, or rather, the image that they want others to have of their life. Behind this overexposure lies a need for approval and acceptance by their peers, who are not only their classmates and friends, but a wide variety of acquaintances and strangers with whom they interact through the Internet. This is why it is so key that parents step in and their children from falling into the tyranny of like.

Tips for helping kids avoid the Tyranny of the Like

  1. Talk to your children. It is necessary to have conversations with children to find out how they experience interpersonal relationships with their environment, which people have the most influence on them or who they follow on social networks ... This dialogue should develop in a natural way, in relaxed moments in which they feel comfortable; never after an argument over the use of the mobile phone that leads them to lock themselves up.
  2. Work on their self-esteem. Adolescents are in the midst of the formation of their character and personality, so they need to be valued from the outside. Look for the things you do well and acknowledge it when you least expect it. Although it may not seem like it, our recognitions and evaluations reinforce your self-esteem and can help you if you experience any rejection or lack of recognition by others, for example in the digital environment.
  3. Make sure they have several groups of friends. With whom you can experience different ways of thinking and relating. If they only have an environment of friends, they will be much more vulnerable and influenced if they suffer rejection or do not feel sufficiently valued. A group related to one of your hobbies may be an option
  4. Set medium to long-term goals and plans for your children. They need to learn that not everything is instant – the most important things take time, effort, and dedication. 
  5. And above all, monitor the types of photographs and publications that they upload to social networks and if they participate in “challenges”. See if they start posting daring photos or in risky situations to gain acceptance or approval from friends and acquaintances. Parental monitoring tools like Qustodio, can help you do this easily and unobtrusively.

Maria Guerrero Moya

Maria Guerrero, LPC, is a licensed psychologist and expert in digital wellbeing with over 20 years of experience helping children, couples, and families. She is also the proud mother of two.

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