Social Media and Self Esteem

The Rise of Social Media

Today, young people in the United States rely heavily on social media to boost social connection and self-esteem. Social media may instead be detrimental to self-esteem, especially in the younger population, resulting in cyberbullying, body image issues, and even mental health issues.

It is essential to have open and honest conversations with your teenager to ensure they maintain a healthy relationship with social media and a healthy relationship with themselves.

General Statistics

Social media platforms are increasingly used to connect with others, share articles and other information, and even consume news content. About 70% of the United States population have utilized social media.1 Additionally, 94% of all teens in developed countries use social media. 2

As of 2019, Facebook and Youtube are the most popular social media sites among all age groups. Among those aged 18-29, 91% use Youtube, 79% use Facebook, 67% use Instagram, and 62% use Snapchat. Less than 40% of this age group uses Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, WhatsApp, and Reddit.3

Many people who use social media have integrated it into their daily routine. Facebook and Instagram are the most frequently used social media sites, as 75% of Facebook users and 63% of Instagram users visit their preferred site at least once a day. Daily use for Snapchat is 61%, for YouTube is 51%, and for Twitter is 42%. 3

75% of Facebook users visit their preferred site at least once a day
63% of Instagram users visit their preferred site at least once a day
Daily use for Snapchat is 61%
Daily use for Youtube is 51%
Daily use for Twitter is 42%

Young people use social media as a mode of visual communication, including posting pictures and videos of themselves and commenting on pictures and videos others have posted. Unfortunately, utilizing photos and videos as the primary form of self-representation can increase the importance of physical appearance among young people and ultimately create negative emotions and self-esteem issues. 2

It is essential to understand the impact social media has on young people, especially considering that almost all teens regularly utilize social media. Frequent social media use can result in cyberbullying, body image issues, and severe mental health issues. It is crucial to find ways to communicate with your teenager and ensure their safety while using social media.

Social Media and Cyberbullying

Adolescents have long experienced bullying in the form of name-calling and rumor-spreading; however, the rise in social media use has changed how bullying occurs. A total of 59% of teenagers in the United States have experienced at least one type of abusive online behavior or cyberbullying.4

Teenagers most commonly experience name-calling online, as 46% report being called an offensive name. A total of 32% of teens say that someone has spread rumors about them online, and 16% say they have received physical threats online.4

Cyberbullying also includes nonconsensual exchanges of explicit material. A total of 25% of teens report having been sent explicit images without asking for them, and 7% say that someone has shared explicit photos of them without their consent. Parents of teens are concerned about these exchanges, as 57% say they worry about their teenagers receiving or sending explicit images.4

The vast majority of teens (90%) think that cyberbullying is an issue in their age group and 63% define it as a significant problem.4 Cyberbullying can also contribute to body image issues, another negative result of heavy social media use.

The way adolescents perceive their physical appearance contributes significantly to their self-esteem, especially young women. Young people spend a lot of their time on social media posting pictures and videos of themselves and liking and commenting on others’ photos and videos. Adolescents rely heavily upon the photos and videos they post to represent themselves, giving an excess of importance to their physical appearance.2

Often, teens’ photos and videos are filtered or edited, which contributes to a social media environment that portrays appearances that are difficult to obtain or unrealistic. These false portrayals create a gap between what young social media users actually look like and what they believe they should look like, which can then cause body image and self-esteem issues.2

Young adults are also affected by the images they see on social media. Social media is a space where the thin-ideal is widespread. Images and content on social media often encourage women to strive for body ideals that are unrealistic or unattainable. These unrealistic ideals can lead to issues with body image and more extreme measures such as intense dieting and disordered eating. 5

In a study, 118 young women aged 18-27 were divided into two groups. Researchers asked one group to log into Facebook and Instagram for at least five minutes and find one peer they considered to be more attractive than themselves and comment on their photos. Researchers asked the other group to log into Facebook and Instagram for at least 5 minutes and comment on a post of a family member they did not consider to be more attractive.6

The women who had commented on photos of a peer considered to be more attractive than themselves experienced changes in their perceptions of their own appearances. Those who only interacted with family members did not experience any body image changes.6

This study showed that when young women interact with photos they believe are more attractive than themselves, they begin to develop issues with the way they look. Considering many of the posts on social media do not portray other women as they are in real life, many young women who use social media may develop body image issues based on the unrealistic images they see.6

Social Media and Mental Health

Social media use can also impact the mental health of young people. One study found that adolescents who use social media for more than three hours per day are at increased risk of developing mental health problems. They are specifically at risk for mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, negative self-image, and loneliness.7

Depression, specifically, has been increasing at a very high rate. Between 2009 and 2017, depression rates increased 60% in teens ages 14 to 17. Depression rates for those ages 12 to 13 increased 47%, for those ages 18 to 21 increased 46%, and doubled for those ages 20 to 21.8 Additionally, suicide rates have tripled among adolescents aged 10 to 14 and among girls.9

The rising rates of depressive symptoms and suicide have occurred alongside the rise in smartphone use. Adolescents have become more likely to seek counseling for anxiety and depression with the increase in social media use. Conversely, adolescents who spend more time socially interacting in person, at sporting events, and attending religious services than they do on their smartphones are less likely to report mental health issues.7

One reason depression and anxiety may be correlated with social media use is that social media platforms are designed to be addictive. Using social media activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, making the user feel good. Since the outcome is not predictable, for instance, users don’t know how many likes a picture will receive and when it will receive them, the behavior is likely to repeat. People who use social media regularly use it to find validation that can ultimately replace real-life, meaningful connections.10

It is important to note that the younger someone is when they start using social media, the more significant impact it will have on their mental health, especially females.10 It is crucial to start a conversation with your child about social media’s impacts and how to reduce usage.

How Parents Can Help

It is increasingly important to help adolescents create a safe and responsible relationship with social media. This conversation needs to be ongoing and isn’t necessarily about taking the phone away. The following actions and conversations can help young people foster a more healthy relationship with their smartphones.11

Take Social Media Seriously

It is vital to understand the powerful influence social media has on young people. Many teenagers today haven’t experienced much of life without social media, and what they do experience online can have a significant impact on them. It is essential to listen to and honor your child’s experience with social media without minimizing or diminishing what they are going through.11

Encourage Critical Thinking

When you discuss social media with your teenager, encourage them to think more critically about it by asking questions. You can ask your child what they think a friend edited in their photo and why they edited it. Asking questions like this can lead to more significant questions like, why do people post pictures on social media? Are who they appear to be online who they are in real life? Why does getting “likes” on pictures feel good? How does spending time on social media make you feel? Questions like this can help them gain a better understanding of the reality of social media and how it affects them.11

Model Healthy Responses

Young people need to know that it is ok to fail and that it is acceptable to show when they do fail. Parents should avoid hiding their own failures to show their children it is ok to fall short of success. Parents can model healthy responses when projects or plans don’t work out as planned. Teens should understand that failure is a part of learning how to succeed and that it is a normal part of life.11

Praise Their Efforts

Parents should let their teenagers know that they should be proud to show their projects. Whenever your child has worked hard on something, they should be praised for their efforts, even if it doesn’t always end in success. It is also helpful for parents to show their own efforts, especially when they don’t yield the preferred results. When you are proud of your work, it encourages your child to feel the same about theirs.11

Take a Break

If the amount of time your teenager spends on social media becomes worrisome, have everyone, including you, take a break. If you are asking your child to take a step back from social media, it is best to practice what you preach and take a step back as well. Spend this time engaging in other, meaningful activities with your child.11

Trust People, Not Pictures

Remember not to rely on social media to tell you how your child is doing. Your teenager might be regularly posting pictures of themselves smiling and interacting with peers on social media; however, if your child seems or sounds unhappy, it is important to talk about it. Ensure they know it is safe to talk to you by encouraging them to tell you how they are feeling and being supportive. When your child does reach out, make sure they know you are proud of them for doing so.11

Talk to Us Today

All parents want their children to lead happy and successful lives. A huge part of getting there is making sure they know they are loved and praised as they are. This praise helps young people to build confidence in themselves without all the filters and editing in social media.

If your child is displaying any symptoms of mental health issues resulting from social media use, it is vital to seek professional help. Our expert therapists and psychologists are here to help you or your loved one.  Contact us today to learn how you can improve your mental health. 


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