There are a lot of voices in your teenager’s life, messages hitting her from every direction about what to do, what to wear, who’s cool and who’s not, and how to be happy. Social media can make some of those messages louder—and many of them don’t line up with what we know to be true from the Bible and leave your daughter feeling less than, left out, and lonely.
Teens are surrounded by carefully staged versions of lives that look better than their reality, and airbrushed images of models that look better than their bodies, among a thousand other issues. It’s easy to let jealousy or feelings of inferiority take over.
As a parent, it can be hard to know what to say to counter some of those messages, especially when Scripture doesn’t directly deal with selfies or Instagram or texting. How do you apply ancient words to modern times?
Here are a few suggestions, key passages of our faith that warn us all about the danger of comparison—and, more importantly, gives us something beautiful and meaningful to replace it with.Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Wavebreakmedia
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”—Romans 12:4-8
This is a great place to turn if your teen is comparing her abilities to others and feels like she’s coming up short. My mom had me memorize it in jr. high, and I remembered in many times later on. Whether it’s a sibling who seems to glide through areas that are more difficult for her, or a group of friends who share a talent she doesn’t, it can be hard to feel overshadowed by others.
What Paul is telling us here, though, is simple: we all need each other. God put us in families, both in our homes and churches, for a purpose. He never makes mistakes, and he doesn’t view some gifts as more important than others...so we shouldn’t either.
Especially if your daughter has more behind-the-scenes or under-appreciated gifts, try to help her find ways to use them to serve others, and be extra encouraging of the efforts she’s making. Point out her gifts, and introduce her to people who have those same gifts and are stewarding them well. In the end, though, the pressure is off because it’s not about us and our amazing talents: it’s just about pointing to Jesus.
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1 Timothy 6:6-9
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”—1 Timothy 6:6-9
Everything from commercials to haul videos on YouTube to makeup tutorials are telling your daughter that more stuff will make her happy. It can be easy to see those glossy images and bright smiles and assume that a new phone or shopping spree will fill something that’s missing.
That’s why it’s important to speak this biblical truth over and over again to your daughter, and live it out in your own life: our possessions—or our popularity or money or sports records or grades—have no power to give us happiness. Discuss together how some of the most rich and famous people, maybe even some of your daughter’s friends, are secretly miserable. Give examples from your own experience.
Sometimes it’s good to outright state things we know are true but sometimes forget: stuff is meant to be used, and it’s nice to appreciate a useful gadget or pretty purse...but when we let our things own us instead of the other way around, that always leads to jealousy.
And when your teenager is tempted to look to someone else’s stuff and being envious, point her to what she already has in Jesus: a hope and a purpose, a family of other believers, strength in hard times, and a future with God forever in heaven. No trip to the mall could leave you with greater treasures than that!
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“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.”—James 3:13-14
Think about the people who made a difference in your life—it probably wasn’t because they were the best looking or the most talented. They were men and women who were humble, wise, and tried to live a life worthy of the gospel. Contrast that with a life spent comparing yourself to others and wishing you looked differently, owned something bigger and better, or could just be more like so-and-so. It’s not a fun way to live.
Once you’ve thought of those people in your life, tell your daughter about them. We live in a society where the people teenagers hear most about are role models for the wrong reasons—usually the most attractive, most talented, most popular celebrities who wander into the spotlight and might or might not have any of the qualities of biblical character.
One way to help your daughter struggling with comparison is to make sure she knows the stories of women who mattered and made a difference because of the love they had for God and others—and help her notice and connect with those people in her own life.
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“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”—Psalm 139:13-14
This one is a great one to memorize with your daughter and even tape in a visible place, like the bathroom mirror. It’s a reminder that even the feature we’re most self-conscious about was knit together by God. We are his masterpiece works of art, loved and chosen and declared “very good,” made in the image of God himself. That is amazingly good news, and when we really trust that it’s true, it’s impossible to dwell on comparison.
It’s tough to believe that when a pimple appears right before Homecoming, but the Psalms are all about training your heart to believe the truth, repeating it to yourself as a reminder.
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“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”— Philippians 2:3-4
One of the dangers of social media is that by design it’s all about me, me, me. Sure, it’s great to share our lives with one another, but there’s a danger zone where that becomes less important than showing off or seeking meaning in all the wrong places.
The cure? As always, it’s being more like Jesus, and Jesus always thought of others first. If Jesus has been born today, maybe he would have been active on the latest social app...but he wouldn’t have used it to brag or get attention. He would have used it to care for and serve others.
Ask your daughter: What would that look like? What are some ways you can use social media to encourage, share truth, or serve others? When you start thinking of others before yourself, like Jesus did, you don’t have time to worry about comparing yourselves to them.
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1 Peter 3:3-4
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”—1 Peter 3:3-4
This is a go-to passage for women especially to remind them of priorities that matter. But it’s more than a guilt-inducing reminder to spend more time on your heart and attitude than your hairstyle and makeup routine. Especially at the time it was written, when women were essentially powerless property, it’s a declaration that your daughter is of great worth in God’s sight.
One thing to draw out from this passage for your teen is that while physical beauty fades with time, a woman of God who seeks after him with all her heart will just keep growing in inner beauty.
A great related question to discuss with your teenager is: Have you ever met someone who became less attractive once you got to know them? What was it about them that had that effect on you?
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“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”—Galatians 1:10
In context, Paul is talking about the fact that the gospel he’s preaching—the real one—isn’t toned down to sound nice and harmless. The application, though, goes way beyond that. This is the a verse to go to when your daughter gets a surge of happiness when a post does well on social media...or feels rejected when one is ignored. It’s also a helpful truth when cyberbullies make insensitive or cruel comments that wound her heart.
If we let other people and their likes and hearts and shares determine our happiness, we’ll never feel secure, because those measurements can zigzag up and down every day. It’s only when we rest in God’s unconditional love for us and focus on pleasing him that we can be free from the endless hamster-wheel marathon of approval.
Tell stories of times that you experienced God’s great love for you or your family, and take time to pray together to thank God for his never-changing faithfulness toward us.
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1 Corinthians 13:12-13
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”—1 Corinthians 13:12-13
This one hits the heart, way down deep in the place where we all long to be known and loved unconditionally. That’s what many teenagers are hoping to find interacting with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers online. But they have to keep coming back for more, because it never satisfies. That’s because ultimate meaning can’t be found in a Snapchat streak or viral video. It can only be found in Jesus.
Read this passage with your daughter and talk about what it would feel like to be fully known and understood. Remind her that she has a true friend in Jesus, and one day, all the parts of life that don’t make sense—broken homes and mental illness and hurtful words and all kinds of suffering—will be gone for good and we’ll know fully and be fully known. That’s a truth to remember on the hard days.
Amy Green lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she loves leading a small group of jr. high girls…and having them over to make cookies. She blogs about life, faith, and culture at themondayheretic.wordpress.com.
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