Self-esteem development during adolescence is an important area of focus for psychology. Self-esteem refers to the judgements young people make about their worth as a person and is closely associated with mental well-being.
The way that we are communicating with peers has changed dramatically over the past decade with the growth of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Although social media has made communication and keeping up with peers easier, it has brought about an added pressure to adolescent’s self-esteem development. It has never been easier to compare yourself to peers than it is right now. On social media, your life is on show and young people are able to create a beautiful ‘highlights reel’ which is often unrealistic and highly filtered. This in turn feeds comparison to unachievable standards and can leave you feeling not good enough.
Here are some conversation starters to have with your adolescents as well as some helpful messages that we need to be sending about social media.
Sit down with your adolescent and ask them:
“What does it feel like when your post doesn’t get many likes?”
Helpful messages to discuss:
- Just because a person has more likes on their post does not mean their contribution is better or more interesting
- Likes do not equate to your self-worth, what you do is much more important than what you look like. What do you do to help you feel good about yourself?
Look at Instafamous celebrities’ profiles with your child and ask, “What do you think about this person’s profile? What does their life look like to you?”
Helpful messages to discuss:
- People’s profiles do not accurately portray their real life
- Social media celebrities are paid to post perfect photos online as advertisements
- People do not post the ordinary or painful parts of their lives online, just the best bits
- Check out stories of celebrities (such as Essena O’Neill) who realised that social media fame doesn’t equate to happiness
“How do you feel when you compare your number of ‘friends’ to other people’s number of ‘friends’?”
- Friendships are about quality not quantity
- It is impossible to have good friendships with hundreds of people and online friendships are not always genuine friendships
"What inspires you on your social media feeds?"
- Follow your interests and ‘like’ information that actually makes you feel good on social media! Find healthy and positive pages and people to follow online
- As we spend so much time online it’s important that our feeds have information that is related to who we want to be as a person - not just the people we want to look like, but the kind of person we want to be on the inside. Do you want to travel the world? Are you interested in making music? Are you into cooking? Do you need some positive thinking or inspirational quotes? There are pages dedicated to exactly this, Get out there are find some that spark your interest.
Helping your teens to think about their motivations behind posting up that hundredth sexy selfie will help them (and you) to think about healthier ways of getting validation and building self-esteem. It’s probably not going to drastically change their posting behaviour, but it might help them to see their online behaviour through a new lens. Through having this conversation, you might be able to come up with ideas about other ways to feel confident – such as learning about their strengths and building on them. This is how positive self-esteem is developed. It might even help you to reflect on whether your child has enough opportunities to experience success and develop their strengths. If not, think about how you can facilitate this by increasing their opportunities in the ‘offline’ world.
Remember, social media is a big part of your teens life so understanding more about it will help you to show your interest in your child’s life bringing you closer together which is so important for your relationship.
If you have concerns about negative impacts that social media is having on your child’s self-esteem and you are unsure how to tackle this, speak with a psychologist skilled in this area.
If you are interested in learning more about supporting your child or student around these issues, let us know you're interested in our Social Media, Selfies and Self-Esteem parent/teacher group starting early 2018.
Shivaun Pereira is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist at Hopscotch & Harmony who works with families and students struggling with academic, behavioural and social challenges at home and in the classroom. She also has a particular interest in adolescent mental health. and facilitates Social Media and Self-esteem workshops for parents and teachers.