Teaching Teens to Avoid Comparisons
All of us have compared ourselves to someone else at some point in our lives. It might have been a classmate, friend, coworker, neighbor, or even a celebrity. We might have wished we had their looks, accomplishments, money, or number of social media followers. The tendency to compare ourselves is a normal human reaction.
While it is quite common to make comparisons, it is also one of the fastest ways to feel bad about ourselves. Rarely, do we make a comparison without feeling jealous, inferior, or inadequate. Unfortunately, our culture encourages comparisons, idolizing people who seem to have it all. Teens are especially susceptible to falling into a habit of comparing themselves because they are trying to establish their own identity.
Experts note that habitual comparisons lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and negative self-talk. Comparisons are a habit that steal the joy from our lives. Comparisons do not add value or meaning to our situations and, in fact, distract us from our own lives and make us resentful of others. It is simply a waste of energy to focus on other people’s lives rather than our own. In addition, comparisons never end; no matter how much success you achieve you can always find someone else with whom to compare yourself.
So, knowing that comparisons are not helpful at best and destructive at worst, how do we teach teens to break free from this negative habit? Here are some tips to share with your child:
Notice the behavior.
You can’t break a habit until you start paying attention to your own behavior. The first step is always acknowledging the problem and recognizing when you are starting to compare (what triggers you to start comparing yourself). To stop the habit, begin by noticing when you do it so that you can potentially avoid your triggers.
Redirect your thoughts.
Next time you find yourself comparing yourself to other people, get up and change your surroundings. Go for a walk, move to a different part of the room, or start a new task. Allow the change to help you redirect your thoughts to something that makes you feel good. If an environment change doesn’t help, try reminding yourself that you will never feel good through comparisons. Ask yourself, “Why should I keep comparing myself to other people if it will only bring me down in the end?” You might also want to try choosing some memories that make you feel good about yourself sometime when you’re feeling happy, so that when you catch yourself beginning the comparison habit, you already know of some positive things to focus your mind on instead.
Identify your own strengths and successes.
Every individual has strengths, talents, interests, and successes that are unique to them. Identify what yours are! Whether you are a math whiz or an artistic guru, you have a unique perspective backed by unique experiences and unique gifts. Your strengths and accomplishments will look different from anyone else’s, and that’s a good thing! When you name your own strengths, you realize that you are not a failure or inferior to someone else. You have many wonderful traits, so focus on the good within you!
Feeling grateful for what we have helps us to recognize the good things in our life. Many studies have shown that this simple act leads to positive change, a greater sense of happiness and a positive attitude. Learn to appreciate the contribution of others without comparing yourself to it. If you continue to struggle with negative comparisons, try flipping the concept on by comparing yourself to people who have less than you do, which will help you realize how lucky you already are.
Remind yourself nobody is perfect.
Typically, we tend to compare the worst we know of ourselves to the best we assume of others. We compare our weaknesses to someone else’s strengths – that is so unfair! It is important to remember that every single person has weaknesses, challenges, and painful experiences. You don’t know the whole story behind someone’s life. We all tend to conceal our difficulties and highlight our successes, so what you’re seeing of someone else’s life isn’t the whole picture. Nobody is perfect – not you, nor the person you idolize.
Limit social media.
Social media can be a lot of fun and allows us to stay connected to friends and family, but it also encourages negative comparisons. Everyone posts their best and most exciting life moments and suddenly you feel depressed. You want their life. The key is to remember that social media does not give the full details of people’s lives. Someone may proudly announce the publication of their new novel, but conceal the 30 rejections their manuscript received before being published. We admire the gorgeous photo of the smiling, happy family not realizing that they suffered through a 2-hour photo shoot, full of bickering, for the one good photo that came out of it. No one advertises the fight they just had with their girlfriend or the exhaustion they feel from their busy schedule or the self-doubt they feel from a failure. If social media causes you to feel disappointed with your own life, remind yourself that you are not seeing the whole picture. If that doesn’t help, limit the amount of time you spend on social platforms.
Our society pressures us to “fit in” but that leads us to less individuality, creativity, and fresh ideas. Our world needs more individuality to make progress and improve. Your gifts and talents and successes and contributions and value are entirely unique to you and your purpose in this world. So rather than comparing yourself to others and wishing you were more like them – celebrate your special individuality and dare to be different! We don’t need two of the same; our world needs what only you can provide.
Only compare with yourself.
The only helpful comparison you can make is with yourself. Compare yourself now with who you were a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago. More than likely, you are better now than you were then. When we compare with ourselves, we are motivated to learn, grow, and become the best possible versions of ourselves. Learn to celebrate the little advancements you are making without comparing them to others.
You should consider what you are role modeling to your teen. Are you comparing yourself to others, making comments about how you wish you were something other than you are. The best way to a fulfilling life is to appreciate what you have rather than focus on what you’re lacking. Model this perspective to your teenager to help them feel the same.