The 10pm trap: Breaking the cycle of comparison.

Ah yes…comparison. We’ve all found ourselves stuck in this nasty process of examining our lives next to someone else’s. Unfortunately comparison is not limited to age, gender, personality or status. It’s something we can all experience. Often it starts with just one tiny seed of a thought, maybe rooted in some kind of insecurity or disappointment. This seed can grow into a powerful, unhelpful and really destructive way of thinking….boosting ourselves up over our ‘pros’ and beating ourselves up over our ‘cons’.

The concept of Keeping up with the Kardashians is certainly not new…the Jones family has just been replaced. Comparison is part of our human nature and can be tricky to avoid. Whether it’s about our physical appearance, career, material posessions or relationships etc, it can be a challenging cycle to escape, even for adults.

So how difficult then must it be for our teens!?

The fact that their young minds aren’t fully developed is only a small contributing factor to their struggle. Yes they’re facing similar pressures that we did in our adolescence. Yes, comparison is a somewhat natural part of human existence, particularly for teens (I’m sure we can all recall what high school was like). Oh, and let’s not forget the way pop culture has always spelt out for us exactly what we need to measure up to. It’s quite concerning really, how powerfully it can magnify these thoughts of comparison (noted that this was before social media too!)

Our teenagers are growing up in a digital society that has literally created the perfect breeding ground for comparison.

Now don’t get me wrong… we are by no means against social media. We love the way these platforms can connect us to people and create opportunities, even across the globe! Used appropriately and in a healthy way, it can be a really positive addition to one’s life.

Social media itself is not the issue. Our real concern stems from the way teens can get stuck in the cycle of scrolling without the healthy boundaries in place to know when it’s time to take a break. The seemingly endless hours of viewing images, videos and manufactured content is what can begin to create these dangerous, comparative thoughts.

As a parent, and someone who has dedicated their life to helping young people, this can be so disheartening. The way social media and its influencer phenomenon can drive so many young people to compare themselves to others.

The thought of one of my kids beating themselves up, behind closed doors because physically, they don’t look like a particular model they follow on Instagram is really painful for me. The fact that this might lead to them deeply questioning their worth or value is just plain heartbreaking. This is what an ongoing cycle of comparison has the potential to do.

If as parents, we can help our kids put healthy boundaries in place to ensure they’re spending a healthy amount of time online, we can assist in breaking the cycle of comparison.

Whilst young people can struggle with comparative behaviours at any time of the day, there is one particular time that we find is most problematic for young people.

We call it the 10pm trap. 

In every school we work in, we always ask young people this question…

“How many of you check your phones when in bed, falling asleep?”

It’s not uncommon to see every hand in the room raised. It’s this time of day that young people can find themselves struggling more than any other time, and it makes sense!

The wifi is still on.

Mum and Dad have gone to bed.

No one is checking in or guiding them… “Sweetheart, you’ve been on your phone for a while now, it’s time to take a break.”

This time of day has traditionally been reserved for dreaming. A time to reflect on the day that’s just been and the thoughtful consideration of the day that lies ahead. Now, we find it has been replaced with scrolling, comparison and in many cases, self loathing.

A 2017 study found that by Year 11, almost 80% of Australian teenagers used their phone after lights out. Lead researcher Dr Lynette Vernon found that this extensive phone use at night time was linked to poorer sleep behaviour and mental health as well as having a significant impact on self-esteem.

If teens are falling asleep with their phones beside their bed, then it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re also starting their day this way. Before the day has even begun, the first thing young people all over the country are engaging with are platforms that can so easily drive them to compare.

It’s the first thing and it’s the last thing. The habit of checking in online is quite literally framing young people’s existence. 

It is noteworthy that young people aren’t just comparing the way they look to others on their screens. They can also fall into the trap of comparing likes, followers, comments, messages, etc. Without healthy boundaries in place, the unrealistic expectations projected through this medium can lead them down a path of comparison that no parent wants for their child.

So, here are three things to remember to help you guide your child and prevent them from falling into the 10pm trap. 

  1. Help your kids to understand the continuous nature of social media. 

Unlike magazines that young people frequented 20 years ago, social media has no front or back cover. It’s entire design is structured in a way that creates an ongoing cycle of potentially problematic opportunities for comparison.

2. Help your kids understand the unrealistic and at times, manufactured nature of the content they’re viewing. 

The challenge with social media is that young people can often fall into the trap of comparing their lows to other peoples highs. Teens are comparing themselves to filtered, edited, photoshopped and staged content. The standard is set at a level that has not and will not ever exist. It is therefore no surprise that teens will often report feeling like they just can’t measure up. As parents, we can help our kids meaningfully navigate online content and distinguish between problematic and healthy content.

3. Help your kids understand the power of the first thing and the last thing. 

There is much emphasis around the power of a morning routine. When a young person picks up their phone as the first thing, by default they become a victim of the messaging of the first post they encounter. By cultivating a morning routine without these platforms, you as the parent empower your child to take back control of the way their day will begin. In the same way that we believe a morning routine is critical, we propose that an evening routine is just as powerful.

Whilst of course we as parents can’t stop thoughts of comparison happening all together for our kids, we are very much well-positioned to help! Some simple strategies can go a long way in preventing your kids from falling into the 10pm trap.

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