“I look hideous in all of these photos.” This was something that one of the girls in our youth ministry said about a series of group photos I had taken on one of our fall retreats. She, like the rest of the youth, wanted to inspect the photos of their fun I had snapped. Her comment struck me because it was so blunt. The way she talked about herself is how the Phantom of the Opera would have described himself.
This girl’s comment also struck me because I realized how many times I have heard it. I have heard countless youth disparage their appearance in a photo, or make bad comments about their appearance in general.
In her article “What Selfies are Doing to Girls’ Self-Esteem,” Rachel Ehmke comments on how prolific negative body image and sense of self is for teenage girls. She argues that social media, particularly sites like Instagram and Snapchat where people are constantly sharing pictures of themselves and commenting on pictures of others, are helping to erode the self-esteem of many teens (especially teenage girls). She notes that girls are taking an average of seven photos of themselves to find one shot worth posting, and using special filters to try to enhance their beauty. She also notes that more and more teens are turning to plastic surgery and other procedures to enhance their own appearance and improve their selfies. (Ehmke’s article is very illuminating and well written, so I encourage you to follow this link to check it out for yourself: https://childmind.org/article/what-selfies-are-doing-to-girls-self-esteem/.)
Why do teens do this? Why would they go through all that effort just to get a photo? I am sure the motivations are slightly different for each teen, but I believe for most it goes back to approval. Every teen has insecurities about themselves and the person they believe the world sees in them. So, to see dozens or hundreds of their friends and acquaintances “like” their photo, or praise them for their beauty or accomplishments brings them a measure of self-worth. It makes them feel like their lives are significant and meaningful. It shows them that in the eyes of the world they finally measured up, because in their own eyes they so often don’t.
To be honest, I can totally relate. I am not on social media right now, in part because I found myself so regularly comparing myself to others. Even with other youth pastors, I would see their pictures of amazing youth events they had at their church, and read their stories of how many kids came to Christ, and think I that I did not measure up as a youth pastor. I realized I was starting to measure myself using someone else as a measuring stick.
But Scripture speaks against this way of measuring our worth and affirms the uniqueness and goodness of each of us. In Genesis 1, God declares again and again that all of Creation is good, and humanity is especially good. David writes in Psalm 139 that he, like all humans, was fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 describes the unique gifts that God has given each of us, and reminds us in Romans 3 that we are all so valuable to Christ that we was willing to die for us. From the beginning to the end of Scripture, we see again and again how precious and valuable we all are to God. Our worth should be coming not from the value others see in us, but rather the value God sees in us.
So how can we help our kids see that too?
This is the real question, isn’t it? The world is shouting pretty loudly at them about how they can change themselves to be more valuable, so it is up to us to be an even louder voice of love for them. Here are some ways you can try to help your kids find their worth in God: