Self-esteem and social media

Young male leaning on fence using phone

Why do teens like social media? Teenagers place a lot of value in the feedback they receive on social media. Likes, comments, and followers can make or break their mood or self-esteem. You can support your teenager by helping them to gain perspective and understand the relevance and importance of how people present themselves online.

FOBO is the new FOMO, or so they say. No idea what either of those terms mean? That's OK, we've got you covered:

  • FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out. It's an acronym that represents the feeling or anxiety of knowing all your mates are doing something fun and you aren't there. You may remember this feeling from the backseat of your parents car as they drove you away for a family holiday while all your closest friends stayed home to live it up over the summer break.
  • FOBO = Fear Of Being Offline. It's similar to FOMO, and is common in young people who are constantly using their laptop, smartphone, or other Wifi device. The online world is just as significant to young people as the offline world, and being disconnected from their friends online can make them feel anxious or excluded.

Why is social media so important to teenagers?

  • Self expression. Young people use social media to express their personality. Just as they use fashion, art, music and conversation to express themselves, social media is a platform for building your identity and showing the world what you care about.
  • Social media is a mechanism for staying in touch with friends. Even when they are in different locations, young people can 'hang out' on social media. Sending Snapchats back and forth about what they are watching on TV, using WhatsApp to share jokes and stories, and posting images on Instagram are all examples of how young people use social media as a social bonding tool.
  • It provides them with social validation. Getting a 'like' on Instagram from someone you think is cool is the same as getting a thumbs up from that same person in the school yard. An invitation to a private Facebook group is like being told you can sit with the people you're keen to hang out with at lunchtime.This is why some teenagers feel 'FOBO' when they're not allowed to be online.

Help them have positive online experiences

Unsurprisingly, social media and self-esteem have a strong relationship. This means that missing out on an invitation to a cool party, missing out on a Snapchat story from someone admired in high school can be upsetting and negatively impact a teenager's self-esteem. As a parent, there are lots of things you can do to help your child understand that social media follower count, likes, and interactions are not a measure of their actual worth.

  • Remind your teenager that self-worth will never be measured by numbers on social media. Instead, get them to think about and focus on the positive friendships and relationships that they have.
  • Discuss how social media is not a competition. Just because a person has more likes on their post does not mean their contribution is better or more interesting.
  • Talk about how little is being represented on social media. An Instagram post is only one tiny (filtered) moment from a person's day. It does not depict the full story. For a laugh, have a look at some articles about life on Instagram vs life in reality, and take note of how different the two are!
  • Show them how to filter out particular content. If you know there is a person or theme (such as 'thinspo' that your child feels particularly upset or threatened by on social media, suggest they un-follow or hide posts from this person. This can be a good way to protect your child from comparing themselves to others while you talk to them about building a healthy relationship with themselves.

What to do if you're worried

  • Encourage face to face interaction to nurture meaningful friendships and relationships. Don't limit this to peers; include family, your own friends, and other people who can have a positive impact on your child.
  • Suggest positive role models for them to follow. Find some examples of people sharing content that is helpful and positive, and encourage your child to have more of this in their newsfeed.
  • Give them activities to do that don't involve screens simply telling them to get off their phone or computer doesn't engage your child in a positive activity, it just removes the online world and could induce the dreaded FOBO. Instead, develop a plan for activities (such as sport, movies, taking short courses, or outdoor adventures) that they can engage with instead.
  • Get them to talk to someone. If you are really worried that their self esteem is being impacted negatively, talk to a teacher or GP. If body image is a big issue, The Butterfly Foundation offer free counseling.

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