Negativity Bias and Social Media

Negativity bias is a natural human experience. It’s why we are severely affected by what can end up being the slightest of inconveniences, even if really good things happen to us too. For example, you may have gotten an A on a really important exam, but forgetting to submit a homework assignment that same day and losing points for it is more likely to affect you.

We’ve talked about how negativity can build up and affect how we feel in more detail here. This week, however, we wanted to specifically talk about how negativity bias and social media can go hand-in-hand. In an age where we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, are being reduced to numbers and followers, and are connected to pretty much everyone in the world thanks to the Internet, there are tons of opportunities for us to encounter negative experiences, especially online. Even things that adults don’t really consider to be drastic, like getting fewer likes than normal on an Instagram post or getting a simple reaction on iMessage instead of an actual response can have those who were born into social media overthinking everything.

This is because our brains naturally expect the good things to happen to us all the time, therefore making the bad things seem way worse than they actually are. Your child is probably used to having long conversations and constantly sending and receiving content in DMs, Snapchats, and TikTok, so if their friend doesn’t respond to them in the time that they usually do, or they just get a read receipt instead of a reply, it may actually trigger anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The same thing applies to encountering content. Your child probably follow accounts that make you happy, like following their friends, favorite celebrities and musicians, and others who inspire them. However, they may see one of them post something that they either don’t agree with, or actually interpret as something really hurtful, and they might feel betrayed and disappointed.

In these cases, the best advice we have to offer is to remind your child that their social media experience doesn’t just include them. People may forget to respond for a bunch of reasons – they might be too busy, they’re not doing too well themselves, or they may have just forgotten to reply. It’s not your child’s fault if negative things happen online, and while it’s easy for them to think that it is, there are so many other factors that can be involved. Another thing to remember is to acknowledge the good things that happen to them online, no matter how small. Gratitude is a great practice to incorporate in your daily routine, and while it may seem shallow, your child can absolutely practice gratitude with their social media experiences. Did they achieve a milestone in a Snap Streak? Did someone you like stream today? Did you have a funny conversation with a sibling or friend?

Finally, one piece of advice that we always recommend when it comes to social media is to curate the best feed for them possible. That might mean muting someone who posted something they didn’t like for a couple of days, or just blocking them entirely if they’re not that close with them. They shouldn’t be afraid to make lists of people who make them happy so they’re only sharing content with them, and if they think a Facebook friendship has run its course, they should feel free to unfollow.

What experiences tend to affect you the most on social media? What about your child? Have you ever had a conversation with your child about their experiences on social media?

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