Parent Info has partnered with the Dove Self-Esteem Project to offer parents advice and information to help children and young people build confidence and feel good about themselves.
In this article, we look at the role of social media in building and promoting body confidence and self-esteem
‘Social media creates an environment where disordered thoughts and behaviours thrive’
In the world of social media, today’s youth are often living their lives in full view of an online audience. For those from a different generation, the idea of ‘checking in’ online or sharing a selfie to let people know where you are and what you’re up to might seem bizarre. But for young people today, getting ‘likes’ on photos, posts or comments in the virtual world can bring a powerful sense of accomplishment and community acceptance.
But could this constant search for validation trigger negative thoughts about body image? Might the endless comparison with other people's photos online cause a young person to feel dissatisfied with their own looks? Here’s how to help your child avoid the pitfalls of body obsession while using social media.
The impact of social media on body image
A study conducted by Florida State University and published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that a group of women who were asked to browse Facebook for 20 minutes experienced greater body dissatisfaction than those who spent 20 minutes researching rainforest cats online.
Claire Mysko, an award-winning author and expert on body image, leadership and media literacy, explains: ‘While social media is not the cause of low self-esteem, it has all the right elements to contribute to it. Social media creates an environment where disordered thoughts and behaviours really thrive.’
For young people who have a tendency towards perfectionism, anxiety or disordered eating, the (often digitally enhanced) images of thin girls or women they see online can lead them to equate slimness with happiness. Validation of their own photos from other social media users (‘You look great!’ ‘Have you lost weight?’) may falsely fulfil their need for acceptance – further distorting their body image.
Mysko warns that, while social media gives young people – especially girls – the feedback and validation they crave, it can also ‘serve as a catalyst for more insecurity.’
It’s important that parents understand and embrace how social media affects young people, because it’s young people’s accepted currency of communication today.
Johanna Kandel, founder of The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, stresses the value of having two-way discussions with your child about social media use.
‘Having these types of conversations is an opportunity to teach your daughter how to build her self-worth from the inside out,’ she says.
Her advice is not to judge your child but instead ask questions about the impact social media has on them.
How does it feel when someone approves of your picture? Why does it feel important to stay connected to your friends online? How many times a day do you compare yourself to someone else? Have you ever felt worse about yourself after scrolling through a social media site?
This kind of empowered awareness can help inform a young person's choices.
Other ways you can help
This downloadable pdf contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action. Click on 'Files: Uniquely Me parent guide.pdf' at the foot of the page to download.
Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area on ParentZone.org.uk
These pages are brought to you by Parent Zone and the Dove Self-Esteem Project