A variation on that old adage, “You are what you eat,” is a line I heard on a recent podcast: “You are what you think.” English philosopher James Allen wrote this: “As a man thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”
Perhaps this truth resonated so deeply with me because it drives home the foundational principle of self-responsibility that I’ve tried to instill in each of my six children. In sum, you are in complete control of your thoughts and the choices you make in response to how they make you feel.
Today, seemingly more than ever before—thanks in part to continual connections to social media—we are told what to think. More often than not, the short message is: “You are inferior.” A quick scroll through Instagram or Facebook tells you, in so many words: “Your current state is less than adequate.” Or, “Let me count the ways in which you can be in better shape, more attractive, wealthier, and overall, universally desirable.” If you accept such falsehoods, you struggle to be “enough.”
In late 2021, serious discussions took place about the effects of social media on mental well-being, specifically that of young women. This was partially prompted by Instagram’s plans to launch a version of its app for kids. That plan has been put on hold due to backlash. A Forbes article states that “peer-reviewed scientific research” confirms depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction as negative impacts linked to Instagram use.
Although I understand why some parents are apt to blame what they perceive to be the problem—social media moguls at Instagram and Facebook—I’d like to pose a question: Why, generally speaking, do we as a society constantly seek to point the finger anywhere else but inward?
Stay with me. Of course, I see the harm that can result from misguided, superficial messages—and worse—perpetuated on social media. But what responsibility does the end user have? What responsibilities do parents have in teaching their children how to discern, question, and respond to all things they see, read, and hear?
We Christians are taught to embrace the truth that all are created in the image of God. Our Creator gives us the ability to experience a loving relationship with him, and he also imbues us with the free will to make right or sinful choices.
I agree shame might rest squarely on the shoulders of those in the corridors of power, I argue that we—as a society—bear the ultimate responsibility. In the words of Mark Twain: “Life…consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.”