In this guest post from a member of the Strength in Numbers club located at several local high schools in South Orange County, a student explores the topic of why teens often find themselves caught in the web of comparison. From the pervasive influence of social media to the relentless academic pressures and parental expectations, adolescents navigate a landscape rife with opportunities for comparison. Join us as we explore the reasons behind teens’ struggles with comparison from Violet’s perspective.


President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Countless amounts of teenagers can relate to this loss as their frustrations and self-doubt rapidly grow with every glance at the girl with a higher grade or smaller pant size. I am no exception, as I also fell victim to the cruel demands brought on by constant comparison. It’s not our fault we feel so compelled to diminish our own self-worth when witnessing the success of others, as our world promotes this toxic behavior. But it’s our job to find value within ourselves, no matter how much someone else flaunts their victories.


Social media encourages unrealistic expectations

Every corner of the internet is infested with before and after posts that make a perfectly normal girl feel the need to shrink her body, just so she too can have a shocking transformation. The self-proclaimed nutritionist and diet expert promises you’ll lose weight and be so much happier if you partake in her three day juice cleanse. How could a teenager, who knows nothing about nutrition, not be triggered by this? We’re expected to hate yourselves and always be in search of the next fad diet. Health influencers force their “what I eat in a day” videos and explicit shots of their toned body down your throat. What they unfortunately forget to share with their impressionable consumers, is the harmful practices used to obtain this body or the way the posed lighting makes their abs look more defined. Comparing yourself to this body just sets you up for a lifetime of misery and chasing unachievable goals. Continue to remind yourself of this by looking in the mirror and refusing to acknowledge any negative thoughts that arise. Attempt to point out one thing you like about yourself until you’ve built up enough confidence to disregard the allure of comparison.


Comparison is fueled by academics

The simple question of, “What did you get on the math test” might seem harmless, but in reality, it influences self-judgment and unwarranted criticism. Your worth should not depend on how similar you are to another, completely unique individual. Another student scoring higher than you does not take away from your hard work, dedication, or intelligence. Especially because your academic success is often meaningless, as there are so many more factors than just your intelligence that can affect how high you score on a test. Such as how much sleep you got, the food you ate beforehand, or any stress occurring in your home life. Relentlessly striving to be better than those around you will prove to be incredibly toxic, as these intense desires often lead to an overly fragile pride, self-isolation, and burnout. Seeing peers as nothing more than rivals removes a sense of support you could be seeking from them. A healthy relationship with others in school allows you to benefit from them, as you can create a study group to stay motivated and seek help when confused. I know it is tempting to get frustrated when someone else achieves the results you worked so hard for, but beating yourself up will never help. You will always have a second chance to prove yourself. Perfection does not exist, and everyone has experienced some form of disappointment regarding their academics. Never let these emotions stop you from seeing your own value and persevering to ensure you are the best version of yourself.


Parents add extra pressure

Most teens will do anything to make their parents proud and being constantly criticized because their cousins or siblings accomplished “more” is incredibly damaging for their development and self-assurance. Parents may be unknowingly making slight comments about how successful their other child was at that age, which can leave a lasting mark on a young person’s confidence. Siblings are not competitors and pinning them against each other creates inferiority complexes. As a parent, you can claim to love and provide attention to your children equally, but any comparison, no matter how innocent, disrupts this equality. Labeling your children based on their strengths also breeds a low self-esteem as it portrays the messages that one sibling is inadequate. Avoid using adjectives to describe people.


How parents can help

To avoid harming children, appreciate and value each individual’s talents. Remind them how proud you are of their own achievements and give each child their own moment to feel recognized. Spend more time with your children, separately and together, engage in the activities that genuinely interest them, and provide them with a judgment free zone.