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Yo-yo dieting cycle

With Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Whatsapp, GooglePlus, Tumbler, YouTube…our children have never been so connected!  Statistics show the use of social networking is at 88% for 12-13 year olds, 97% for 14-15 year olds, and 99% for 16-17 year olds (Australian Communication and Media Authority, 2013).  In this technological age, social media has become a primary gateway to connect with friends and is part of the vast majority of adolescents’ daily ritual. Yet many researchers and psychologists have discovered that what may begin as a harmless habit, can also fast-track teenagers into a habit which has been shown to negatively impact self-esteem and self-worth.

Developing friendships is important for a child’s growth, but researchers are questioning if social media is impeding communication skills. Teens are missing opportunities to witness how words and actions affect others, as texting and online chatting keeps others at a safe distance.  Social media can give us a false sense of belonging and connecting that is not built on real-life social exchanges. This makes it increasingly easy to lose oneself to cyberspace connections and give them more weight than they deserve.  Studies have shown social media is a pathway to shallow relationships and emotionally detached interactions. 

Back in the days when we came home from school, and we used to establish a connection with our families and were then disconnected from our school life and friends. This usually meant that during those important years of cementing identities and self-esteem; parents had the opportunity to have an equal influence in their children’s lives as their fellow peers did. 

Experts from research projects conducted by Macquarie University and Sydney’s Children’s Hospital at Westmead, have found that teenage girls with body image issues are particularly at risk.  “Those with lower self-esteem may access social media more frequently and use it in a different way to someone with a higher level of self-esteem.” “Facebook enhanced feelings of connectedness for well-adjusted people, but those prone to depression were likely to feel more disconnected.”

A 2013 Flinders University study also concluded that the more time girls spent on social media, the more likely that they were to be dissatisfied with their body image and experience low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is developed by our global evaluation of ourselves, by comparing ourselves against other people we are exposed to, and this is where social media presents a huge problem! 

“Woah, she looks great, why can’t I be as skinny as she is? And she has such gorgeous clothes!

“Why does everyone else seem to have boyfriends, but no one is ever interested in me!”

“Other people have great lives, so many friends and parties…my life is pathetic!”

Studies show that an adolescent’s self-esteem suffers when they scroll through friends’ feeds and view perfected images of ideal lives, social activities, personalities and traits.  Being accepted by a child’s peer group is so important for a teenager. Children carefully craft profiles and posts, portraying an image they want others to view. With actual “polling data” on appearances and interests by “likes”, it’s easy to understand why children work feverishly on maintaining their image on social media. And these behaviours have been shown to increase anxiety and low self-esteem.

Many studies agree that self-esteem is affected by how social media sites are used. Most studies conclude that excessive time spent on social media can lead to low self-esteem, but that the way social media is used is more of an accurate measurement. There appears to be a correlation between “passive” users; people browsing without updating or commenting, and low self-esteem. It appears teens who primarily use social media to update their own profiles don’t suffer to the same degree as those who spend hours scrolling through their feeds (“passive following”).

  1. Set social media curfews so that children have plenty of device-free time each day when they are not consumed by the pressure of their online profiles. Create “no device zones” at home during family meals and also at any social events. But be a good role model yourself!
  2. Don’t only monitor the quantity of time that your children spend on social accounts. The quality of the social media activities that they engage in can clearly impact their self-esteem and well-being. Monitor what they’re doing online and take an interest in whose feeds they’re following.
  3. Encourage your children to engage in positive social media activities, conversations and causes, not just watching others. 
  4. Educate them how to look at images with a cynical eye, and also to evaluate how seeing certain things makes them feel. Help them understand that they should take what they see on their social media feeds with a “grain of salt”; that is, to a large degree people like to reflect the good in their lives and usually filter out the “bad stuff”.

The important thing for parents to remember is that a teenager’s brain is still developing. This developmental period is such an important time for imprinting social intelligence.  So we need to be aware of how social media affects the teenage mind and take an active role in monitoring the way our children are using social media.

To explore low self-esteem programs contact Integrated Health Specialists today!

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen