A child’s desire to be popular, to make a lot of friends, and to be liked by a group of peers is a natural social tendency of every person, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, social networks have completely changed the way children make friends and view them today.

Instead of friendship being the result of meaningful interaction, shared memories, and trust built over time, it is now measured by likes, hearts, comments, shares, views, followings, and other forms of online validation. This increased focus on clicks has put children’s mental health at risk.

How do “likes” affect a child’s brain?

The power of likes is greater than we might imagine. The impulse in the brain that occurs when receiving likes is similar to that of earning money or receiving a reward. Each time a child receives validation through a like, their brain produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the feeling of reward.

Several studies compare this feeling to the sensation created by drug use. As with any pleasurable feeling, the body, in cooperation with the brain, wants to repeat it and experience the satisfaction again. Hence comes the indescribable need for a like and the child’s willingness to do anything to satisfy this need. This is how addiction is formed. sa mozgom želi da ga ponovi, i iznova doživi zadovoljstvo. Otuda dolazi neopisiva potreba za lajkom i spremnost deteta da uradi sve kako bi došlo do zadovoljenja potrebe. Na ovaj način se stvara zavisnost.

Why is approval important?

Children are in constant search of themselves. The feeling of belonging is not only important in the earliest years, but it plays a significant role in building a child’s identity and their position in society. A PEW Center study showed that as many as 43% of children feel the need to only post content on social networks that makes them appear “cool” in the eyes of others, while 37% of children feel stressed when choosing what to post on their profile, as well as fear that they will not receive enough likes.

Likes are accessible to everyone; anyone can see them, so comparisons occur. Children with the latest phones, branded clothing, popular toys, and excellent photos will receive more hearts, likes, and friend requests and will be more popular in society. On the other hand, children who don’t have phones or whose parents do not allow them to have social media profiles will immediately be excluded and rejected.

How can we help children?

  • Talk to your children.

Through casual conversation, you’ll find out how your child views interpersonal relationships with their environment and who has the greatest influence on them. Discuss the people they respect, follow, and look up to on social networks… This dialogue should develop naturally, when both you and the child feel relaxed, not after a quarrel about the use of a mobile phone or the internet.

  • Work on their self-esteem.

Children and youth crave approval as they form their character and personality. Use this and praise them when they behave well or do something good. Recognition and praise strengthen a child’s self-confidence and can help empower them if they are rejected at school or do not receive recognition from peers they care about.

  • Motivate your child to have several groups of friends.

Different groups of friends are important because with them a child can experience various experiences, encounter different worldviews and thoughts. If they have only one group of friends, they will be much more vulnerable, and rejection or disapproval from the group will affect them much more strongly.

  • Set sensible boundaries for your children.

Check what types of photos and posts your children are sharing on social networks to collect likes. Check if they participate in online challenges. Explain to them in time that posting provocative photos to get likes from friends and acquaintances is not okay and can put them in danger.

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