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"Understanding Snap-anxiety: How to Help Your Teen Navigate Social Media Pressure on apps like Snapchat"

Woman on two mobile phones, texting

The frequent checking of the phone, the having to reply within seconds to a pointless picture of someones ceiling in order to maintain the "streak", the fear that if someone doesn't reply to your snap almost immediately or the dreaded "left on opened" means social suicide or that they hate you.

Any of that sound familiar in your household? It may even be you too. More and more adults are joining in the "streaks" with mates and communicating via the Snapchat App rather than text or WhatsApp. The downside, for those of us nearing the middle part of our life, is that because the text disappears after being read you can't actually remember what your friend sent you or said!

As a parent of teenagers and now counselling 16 & 17 year olds in private practice I am seeing this Snap-anxiety becoming more and more prevalent and it is starting to have a big affect on young peoples mental well being.

The stress of keeping up with the streaks and/or not leaving messages "delivered" or "opened" is real as they can have some 300 or more people to Snap on any one day. It can feel like a full time social media job.

It feels impossible for them to not constantly check if there is a Snap and then not to reply instantly. But the same goes in return, if they snap a friend then they expect instant response and if they don't get it, especially from a close friend, then the anxiety kicks in. "What I have done wrong", "why are they not replying" to then veering to "what if something has happened to them" so a frantic search on snap maps occurs to see if they are at home. And this is all happening within seconds.

I try to explain to my young clients that in the "olden days", (cue much eye rolling) that a message would be exchanged via letter and this could take weeks to arrive. More recently my teenage years were spent trying to find a phone-box, using my new hi-tech phone card, and then anxiously phoning my friend, really hoping that their parents wouldn't pick up!

Thankfully life and technology has moved on and we wouldn't be without the joy of instant communication but it does come at a price.

Dating, for example, is a big minefield and its been distressing to hear how many young people feel pressured, not just by another random Snapper, but from their own friends to send nude pictures to people they have only just connected with.

The routine seems to follow: " Hi, I'm XXXX, how old are you?" Next question: " send nudes."

More frightening is that it now seems normal to young people, firstly to even ask for photos and secondly to send one.

Exploring this scenario with one of my young clients recently I said; lets imagine you have met this guy in a bar and he comes over and says " Hi I'm Jack, can I see your boobs please?" First of all, he wouldn't have the guts to ask and more importantly you wouldn't quickly whip your top off!

She laughed and said that she just hadn't thought about it that way at all and of course that wouldn't happen. So we discussed why should it be OK to do that just because it is over the internet and also what could happen to that picture after you have sent it. You instantly lose all right and control over your body and the anxiety that comes with is overwhelming.

So how can we help our young people to enjoy the benefits of social media but also guide them away from the pitfalls because when we talking about 16, 17 year olds its not quite so easy to ban the app or put restrictions on. They are becoming young adults and have to make these decisions for themselves and whilst you can have the explicit filter on your broadband, it won't be on everywhere they go.

Beat the Snap-anxiety


  • Start the conversation openly and honestly. Try to not come at it from a "it wasn't like this in my day" approach but more how you get the joys of communicating with friends but how there are pitfalls and you just want to support them. My clients often admit stuff to me that their parents don't know about because they are scared of their reaction. Try not to react, just listen.

  • If they wouldn't say it to someones face then don't say it all. A friend of mine had a good approach for her younger teen saying to her that, if Granny saw that text she had sent, would she think less of her and be disappointed? It doesn't have to be a grandparent for older teens but someone they respect.

  • If they are tempted to send "nudes" then ask are they happy for everyone in their contacts or possibly the rest of the world to see that picture? There are now many stories of young people getting scammed into sending a picture to someone they think is going to be a friend and then that friend turns out to be a scammer demanding hundred of pounds or they will hack their account and send that nude picture to all their contacts. The stress and anxiety of that has sadly caused some young teens to take their own lives. Their parents, distraught, saying, if only we'd known. We can't know everything they are up to and they do need privacy but if they feel they can come to you and you will listen and not react then you have a better chance of helping them.

  • Empower them to feel that they are so much more than their body or how they look. Their potential friend or love interest should be interested in what they have to say, not how big their boobs or willy are.

  • For boys, there is often more of a fascination about porn and this feels an easy way to get it by asking for nudes. I don't want to generalise as any gender, non binary, can enjoy porn too and will also ask for nudes. However, it is surprisingly easily available on the internet so ,again, if you wouldn't ask in real life then its not ok to ask in a message.

  • Boys too get asked for nudes and the pressure for them is just as real as it is for girls when it comes to body image. More often though the boys that get asked for nudes are the ones that end up getting scammed. A beautiful girl sends them a picture and then asks them to reciprocate and the scam is on.

  • Have a day out somewhere with little signal. It really takes the pressure of them to have to check Snaps and reply. They have a reason not to reply, no signal, and it seems to then be OK.

There are so many benefits of phones, tablets, the internet and the ease of communication. It's here to stay and will only become bigger and bigger in our day to day lives. But it can create a lot of noise for all of us. It is a constant partner in our lives and the anxiety that noise brings is overwhelming for us all but especially our teenagers.

For my generation we were nearly adults when social media apps kicked off but our kids know nothing else. There is no excuse for us to not understand it, we have to embrace it with them to really appreciate the pressures they are under. Banning it just isn't an option anymore as they get older. Even schools who used to ban all phones now allow it in lessons so they can access the internet. So rather than feeling we are losing the battle, lets get on the battlefield with our kids so we can help protect them and be by their side when they need us.

Kate Haskell MNCPS (Acc)

professional counselling body

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