When former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen called out the company for prioritizing profits over mental health, Facebook’s subsidiary, Instagram, came under fire. Article after article claimed that social media (Instagram in particular) is bad for teen girls, asserting that endless hours of scrolling negatively impacts self-esteem and make body image issues worse.
I talk regularly with teen girls about body image and self-esteem.
They are two of the most common coaching topics. And during those conversations, social media is always a factor. There is no doubt that scrolling through perfected images on Instagram, obsessing over friend rankings on Snapchat, or striving for Tiktok fame, influence how girls feel about themselves and their bodies. Even with the knowledge that most Instagram images are touched up, girls can’t help but compare themselves. If someone else replaces her number one spot on Snapchat or when her Snapmap shows all her friends hanging out without her, she is bound to be hurt. If her Tiktok receives negative comments or no reaction at all, she will wonder why??
And in many cases, these experiences will trigger self-doubt, fear, worry, embarrassment, or shame. Unless a teen knows how to manage those feelings and what triggers them, the long-term effects can be damaging. Self-esteem and confidence will take a hit. She may lose touch with reality and disconnect from her true self. She may devote less time to her passions and interests, lose sleep, grow depressed, anxious, or worse.
The negative effects of social media are alarming but does that mean it should be taken away altogether?
I don’t think so.
I think it means we must teach girls skills to combat the negative effects of social media.
- They need to develop self-awareness and learn how to self-regulate so they can recognize the dark tunnels in the land of social media and develop strategies to avoid slipping in.
- Subsequently, They need to sharpen their media awareness so they recognize the real from the fake and see through attempts to make them feel weak or “less-than.”
- They need resilience so they are not derailed by a person’s comments, ranking, or image of a so-called perfect body.
- Finally, they need to know their worth, practice self-acceptance, and understand that different doesn’t mean better.
When teens are equipped, they are less likely to be negatively impacted by social media.
While the negative effects of social media are weighty and worrisome, it’s important to shine a light on the positive effects of social media. Yes, there are some!
This is hard for many parents to understand, but for many teens, social media is where they make meaningful connections. Teens who feel different from peers at school or home have an opportunity to build relationships with like-minded people on social media. They may join groups or follow influencers who are very often positive resources, providing inspiration, information, and support.
Social media can also be a venue for creative expression. Teens feel safe sharing their art or political views when they can have some anonymity. Additionally, it provides teens access to news and information. They can develop awareness about global issues and world events. Most importantly, for almost all teens, social media is their social lifeline. It is where they make and stay in touch with friends. In fact, according to Common Sense Media, teens are actually more likely to say that social media has a positive effect on how they feel. They report being less lonely, depressed, and anxious.
Social media is here to stay so it’s imperative teens learn how to use it in a way that supports and empowers them. Boundaries and parental guidance are necessary but most importantly, teens need skills and mindsets that protect them from the negative influences of social media so they can use it as a source of appropriate entertainment, inspiration, and healthy connections.