Self-esteem and social media

Young male leaning on fence using phone

Using social media is a great way for teenagers to stay in touch with their friends, meet new people, learn new things, express themselves and explore their identities.

However, it can also take a big toll on their self-esteem. Especially if they place a lot of value in the feedback they receive on social media, or feel like they’re missing out on something fun their friends are doing, or conversations that are happening online without them.

You can support your teenager by helping them to gain perspective and understand the relevance and importance of how people present themselves online, and what they can do if social media is impacting their self-esteem.

Social media and self-esteem: what's the connection?

Unsurprisingly, social media and self-esteem have a strong link. How much your teen’s self-esteem is impacted by what they do or see on social media will vary, but here are some common reasons for why they might be affected:

  • Social comparison. Social media platforms allow people to share curated or ‘idealised’ versions of their lives. Being constantly exposed to this can lead to unrealistic comparisons for teens, who might look at their peers’ lives and feel like theirs is lacking in some way.

  • Social validation. For teens, getting a 'like' from someone on Instagram can feel pretty validating. However, metrics such as likes, comments, views and followers can become benchmarks for social approval and acceptance.

  • FOMO. With so much happening online, teens might experience FOMO (‘fear of missing out’). Because the online world can be just as important to teens as the offline world, the idea of ‘missing out’ or feeling ‘disconnected’ from their friends can make them feel anxious or excluded, which can also negatively impact their self-esteem.

  • Cyberbullying. Unfortunately, teens might also experience cyberbullying on social media. Whether it’s a hurtful comment, or a nasty image being shared around, cyberbullying can have a profound impact on their self-esteem and confidence. Check out these resources if your teen is experiencing cyberbullying.

Help them have positive online experiences

Here’s what you can do to guide your teen towards positive online experiences, and help them to navigate the ups and downs of social media:

  • Remind them that self-worth will never be measured by numbers. 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. For example, a ‘day in the life’ TikTok video is a filtered representation of a person's day (and doesn’t depict the full story).

  • 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 unfollow or hide upsetting posts. 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. Check out our tips for helping your teen deal with disturbing content.

What to do if you're worried

  • Encourage face to face interaction. Help them 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 them.

  • 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. Instead, develop a plan for activities such as sport, movies, taking short courses, or outdoor adventures that they can engage with instead.

  • Encourage them to talk to someone. If you’re really worried that their self-esteem is being impacted negatively, you could encourage them to chat with a trusted teacher, a school counsellor or a GP. They could also chat with other young people anonymously on the ReachOut Online Community, or book in to chat with a peer worker via PeerChat (if they’re over 18). If body image is a big issue, The Butterfly Foundation offer free counseling.

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