The Problem with Perfection

HappyIsPerfectGrayThey say “nobody’s perfect,” and they’re right. Perfection is a myth.

Really.

The problem is, that if we look at Instagram, Facebook, or other social media postings, it might appear that a lot of people have really perfect lives.

What does that say to our kids? The digital natives who will follow in our footsteps as long as their GPS supports the direction we’re going. Will they feel badly about their “imperfection,” and with whom will they share those feelings?

I’m usually pretty comfortable with social media. I don’t really see it as a threat to people who understand how to interact face to face. More and more however, our youngsters are killing themselves because they can’t live up to the perfection that their propagandizing friends project.

Hopefully, your kid isn’t “different.” According to the Megan Meier Foundation (An organization whose mission is to promote awareness, education, and positive change in response to the issues surrounding bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide), “Among overweight adolescents, 61% have received mean or embarrassing posts online and 59% have received mean texts, e-mails or instant messages.” But, that’s not really a problem, ’cause there’s an app for that!

By downloading the app “Facetune” by APK we can slim ourselves down to meet that perfection standard without a problem. That’s right — why deal with reality, when we can show our friends something completely different?

Got a skin problem? No problem, there’s an app for that too! Use Facetune again, or go buy “Acne” by Modiface, both will clean up your skin as quickly as you can say microdermabrasion. Did you always wish you had blue eyes? No problem, you can change those in your photos too — no need to wear those troublesome contact lenses.

Today, it’s as much as an augmented free world, as it is a brave new one.

We’d all like to live in an ideal world, but that’s just not what life is about. So how can we condition our children for reality and keep their feet on the ground?

Give Them a Sense of Self

We can teach them that they are “good” by setting boundaries for them. Starting at an early age, it’s important to teach kids that following the rules (or living up to parental expectations) makes them “good” children. It’s often as easy as praising them (honestly) when they are behaving properly, or ambushing them with compliments like “I think you’re a good person,” or “I appreciate it when you neaten your room.” These doses of appreciation give kids an inner sense of “goodness” that strengthens them against the surface truths of social media.

When they get their first phone or online account, have an honest conversation with them about the pitfalls of social media, and teach them to be skeptical. By giving them some objectivity, we can teach them to question the images they see in their social sphere and gain a perspective from it. Make a confidentiality agreement and encourage them to discuss their observations with you. Understand the etiquette of social media and discuss boundaries with them. I was surprised to learn that it was bad when I “liked” something on the page of one of their “friends.”

Teach Them to Be Truthful

I was always uncomfortable keeping secrets. I would worry about being found out and getting in trouble. My parents gave me an out by saying, “If you ever do anything that you think might get you in trouble, and you come talk to us about it before we discover it on our own, we will not punish you.” That made sense, and it always resulted in an honest conversation about how to avoid doing it again. My parents called that an Armistice, and at its most basic, gave me, and my kids, the ability to believe in justice, and gave us hope that “cheaters never prosper.”

Give Them a Perspective About Others

I don’t know how many times my wife and I have had to say to our kids, “The only person whose behavior you can control is you !!”

There are many disappointments in life, and young people don’t make that any easier when they attack each other’s weak spots. When someone posts false information, or says something that causes a child to be humiliated, it’s important to help our children understand how to control the way they react to those feelings. The best thing to do is to teach our child to control their reaction, because the behavior of insensitive people is usually more their problem than ours. Why give the bully the satisfaction of knowing they’ve gotten to you?

Reaffirm your child’s goodness: “You are an intelligent, loyal, and friendly person. You tell the truth, you care about your family. That person has a real problem if they’re being mean to you!” Either your child will agree (as they cry in your arms), or they will confess as to why it is the other kid was really being mean. Either way, it’s a win-win.” In this way we script our children with a self-affirming pep talk that they can use to protect themselves from those who attack their imperfections at any time.

Be Honest and Loving at Home

Nobody’s perfect. Nobody lives perfectly, and, certainly, nobody parents perfectly.
As I believe my cab driver should know where he or she is going, so I believe our children should know that we are confident in our roles as their parents. Confident parents are able to listen to and value the opinions of their children. With teenagers, “My way or the highway.” is not a successful tactic. A child on social media is forming an identity — often right before our eyes. They are sensitive to the opinions of others, and, whether they like it or not, their parent’s opinions still matter. By being loving, fair, and firm, we create a home for our children that is safe and reliable. This place where they are valued and respected by parents who listen, and explain, gives them very solid footing out in the world.

Ultimately, making our children comfortable with themselves (and their reality) is the best way to protect them from the feelings of inadequacy that the “perfection” of others can cause.  Despite the perceptions that they may be getting from social media, it’s critical that we teach them that life is full of imperfection.  Showing them how we deal with it, keeps them from being threatened by the propaganda of others.

After all, happy is truly as perfect as any of us will ever get.

This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

About Richard Greenberg

I am a Los Angeles native, father or four, and happy husband for 39 years. I recently wrote my first book, "Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around" in an effort to offer young parents simple advice and help them better understand their roles. I studied English at UCLA, where I also sang in the Men's Glee Club. I have worked in television post production for over 30 years and teach a post production course at the UCLA Extension. Today, I continue to consult about technology, while writing about parenting, speaking publicly, and teaching courses in responsible parenting. I am a very lucky man.
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