Child Safety - Miller & Zois

Social Media Safety for Teens

Social Media & Self Esteem

Social Media InfographicWe all know that social media is a huge part of our teen’s lives. Teenagers spend a good majority of the day looking at their phones, scrolling through all their different social medias. There are plenty of articles on the basic steps needed to keep your child and teenager safe online, but this article is focused on something else that needs to be addressed -- the way social media can impact a teen’s self-esteem and self-image.

Social media has a lot of positive benefits: it helps friends connect with each other, lets people share pictures of their friends and family, and helps small business owners build up a name for themselves. But unfortunately, there is a very dark side to social media, especially for developing teens. Teens are now facing immense pressure to project a persona online that shows off having a so-called “perfect” life. Let’s dive deeper into what this means.

How is Social Media Toxic for Teenagers?

Many social media apps center around posting pictures of what’s happening in your life, like Instagram or VSCO. What started out as an innocent way to share photos with your friends, quickly turned into a silent competition to make your life seem more fun, exciting, glamorous, and most of all, seemingly perfect compared to everyone else. Instead of people posting regular photos of what’s happening in their life, users began to only show the absolute best side of them.

What’s usually involved in this “perfect” life? Well, you can check any famous Instagram and see for yourself. Their feeds are filled with happy, attractive, laughing people that seem to excel with no real effort. Many famous women on Instagram post “perfect” selfies. These selfies involve spectacular lighting, flattering angles, high-end makeup looks, and most importantly, heavy editing. This isn’t your usual editing, however, Instagram users have become well-trained in the art of making a photo look completely natural despite how much has been changed. You can easily google “Instagram perfect selfie”, and dozens of articles and videos come up teaching you how to do it.

You’ll never see a post talking about someone having a bad day on these photo-sharing apps. You will, however, see plenty of posts of people celebrating all their different achievements, so many achievements that you wonder how it’s even possible. You’ll scroll through endless photos of people hanging out with their large group of friends, sipping mimosas on a Sunday morning, attached with an inspirational quote for the caption. You’ll see countless pictures of friends on the beach, regardless of what season it is, posing happily for the camera in their attractive swimsuit.

Can you see how all this faux perfection can impact a teenager who spends most of their day scrolling through these images? Teenagers are pressured to fit into this narrative and create an online persona that does not match up with who they really are. They feel like if they cannot achieve this perfect image like everyone else, they’re not good enough, not pretty enough, and not cool enough. They crave for a life that doesn’t even exist but will try their absolute hardest to mimic it. They feel like they’re missing out on a better life, with better friends, a better job, and a better relationship. Even social media influencers themselves admit to having lived a double life online.

This constant upkeep of putting on your best face online can have severe negative consequences on the mental health of teenagers. Studies have shown that the effects of social media can trigger depression, loneliness, anxiety, and other mood problems. There have been tragic suicides where the victims were known to portray a seemingly happy image online. Teenagers are struggling between the gap of their digital curtain and who they really are in person.

Is Social Media Addictive?

On top of the issue of needing to feel perfect, teens find it extremely hard to stay away from social media. Social media addiction is a real condition often known as problematic social media use or social media overuse. Think about how many times a teenager checks their phone a day. Before class starts, in between classes, during lunch, after school ends, on the car ride home, all the way into their room. Teenagers are quite literally constantly exposed to the effects of social media throughout the entire day.

Many teenagers are aware of the problem, too. Teens have spoken out about how looking at social media all day doesn’t give them satisfaction, in fact, they understand it makes them feel bad about themselves. Still, they find themselves coming back to it day after day.

How can I Help my Child With Social Media?

Social Media InfographicHelping your child understand the underlying problems of social media is harder than the regular internet safety conversation you had when they were younger. It’s not as easy as taking a phone away or limiting usage, it’s about changing the way your teen sees the world and themselves. Here are some tips that may help you guide the situation:

  • Acknowledge that the effects of social media are real and they can have a significant impact on your teen’s health. Teenagers are especially prone to being influenced by peers and popular accounts online. Remember that for many teens, they don’t even know what it’s like to live in a world without social media, so don’t minimize any concerns your teen is having. Their social media life can be just as important as their real life.
  • Give your child a dose of reality when you find them slipping into bad habits. Remind them that people who look attractive in their pictures probably spent hours prepping for that photo, and that’s before any editing. Try to deconstruct the belief that the amount of “likes” they get on a photo determines their worth or popularity. Encourage them to post things that really matter to them, not what they think other people will be impressed by. It’s not wrong to post a nice selfie, but it should be posted with good intentions.
  • Let your teen know that it’s not realistic to constantly achieve things in life. It’s natural for people to fail, and there’s no shame in admitting it either. Failing is an integral part of learning how to pick yourself back up and succeed. If you as a parent end up failing at something, teach your child how to handle it in a healthy way.
  • Try taking occasional breaks from social media. This can be very hard for many teenagers, so it may help if you join them in refraining from going online. It doesn’t have to be a long break, just large enough that your teen has time to fully separate themselves from what they see on their feed.
  • Don’t assume your teenager is happy by what they post on social media. Teenagers may be posting happy photos all the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s how they really feel. If you feel like something is off with your teen, don’t rely on their public image to determine how well they’re doing. Reach out to them with love, care, and compassion.
Sources & Additional Literature

Ades, D., & Kislin, J. (2019). The Correlation Between Certain Parenting Styles and the Social Media Activity of Teenagers. The Whitman Journal of Psychology, 4.

Kranzler, E. C., & Bleakley, A. (2019). Youth social media use and health outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(2), 141-142.

Kennedy, K. (2019). Positive and Negative Effects of Social Media on Adolescent Well-Being.

Ni, X., Shao, X., Qu, R., Zheng, D., & Jia, R. (2019, January). The Association with Online Social Media Use:“Self” and Subjective Well-being of Teenagers. In 2nd International Conference on Social Science, Public Health and Education (SSPHE 2018). Atlantis Press.

Perloff, R. M. (2014). Social media effects on young women’s body image concerns: Theoretical perspectives and an agenda for research. Sex Roles, 71(11-12), 363-377.

Wang, Q., Chen, W., & Liang, Y. (2011). The effects of social media on college students.