Tweens and teens are spending more and more time on social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. According to Pew Research Center, 95% of adolescents report owning or having access to a smartphone, and almost 90% report they are online at least several times a day. Even as adults, we use social media as a means to stay connected with our friends, family, and we can’t forget celebrities like Jennifer Aniston– who broke Instagram when she joined! It is human nature to crave connection and inclusion. Teens, especially those part of marginalized groups like the LGBTQ+ community, find comfort in connecting with others alike near and far via social media.
However, there are several downsides to social media use during adolescence. Think about how much your life as a teenager revolved around socializing. Were you invited to Amy’s party on Saturday? Did you sit with the “cool kids” at the lunch table? Social status and being included matters more than anything else at this very vulnerable age in life– when a lot of mental health concerns have their onset.
So let’s talk about the 3 main ways teen social media use impacts their mental wellness and how we can empower them to increase their self-esteem!
The Comparison Trap: The majority of social media posts are simply a highlight reel of our peer’s accomplishments and most exciting or stylish moments. Yet, this does not stop us from comparing our lives to that of everyone else’s. From fashion choices to appearances, it is so easy to fall into a pattern of negative self-talk when we are bombarded 24/7 with what everyone else wants us to see.
Focusing on Likes: Social media “likes” have quickly become the new popularity contest. This means that teens are equating their self-worth to how many likes they get on a selfie or followers they have. The desire to feel liked, attractive and worthy of love or attention causes teens to make choices such as using filters, altering their appearance, and even engaging in risky behaviors such as interacting with strangers. Not to mention the stress and anxiety that comes along with getting that perfect pose or selfie.
Face-to-Face Interaction: The more time that your teen spends on social media, the less time they will spend interacting with their peers face-to-face. Without this precious face-to-face time, teens are losing out on building vital social and communication skills that they will need to excel in college and beyond. Communication in person looks and feels a whole lot different than on the internet. Therefore, in order for them to feel their most confident in a variety of social situations, it is important for them to practice assertive communication skills on a regular basis.
Tips for helping to build self-esteem in teens and adolescents:
- Limit and monitor their social media use.
- Encourage them to follow inspiring accounts or role models not just influencers.
- Make sure they set aside specific time to interact with peers in a face-to-face setting.
- Get them involved in extracurricular activities such as theatre, art, or sports.
- Set a good example! Put your own phone down and work on being more present.
- Practice using daily positive affirmations with them to combat negative self-talk.
- Focus on giving them positive praise on their personality traits and accomplishments versus appearance.
The take away? Your teen will follow in your footsteps. If you are constantly on your phone or comparing your life and appearance to others– so will they. They may resist these changes at first, but change takes time and consistency! If you are worried about your teen’s mental health and noticing a change in their mood or behavior, reach out to a professional for support. You do not have to deal with these concerns on your own.
- Amanda Schofield is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young women with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem.