“So gorgeous, I wanna be like them someday…”, said my niece while constantly scrolling through her Instagram feeds. It doesn’t take a doctorate in human psychology to understand her reaction. The celebrity vacation pictures on her screen were so flashy that they made a lasting impression on us. However, this has given rise to a significant drawback linked with social media and self-esteem that, unfortunately, tends to stay under the radar.
There was no exaggeration to say that people on my niece’s phone screen were living the dream of millions. For ordinary people, however, the dream turned into a sort of hidden nightmare. The unrealistic standards of beauty and success on the Internet are boggling our minds. They delude the public into thinking that it is the one and only definition of a worthy life.
Nowadays, more and more people are accepting it as a matter of fact. Tooled up with just a smartphone app, they are free to manipulate social images in the hope of showing the most desirable moments while screening out their flaws.
That’s when the problem arises: Teenagers and even children are now exceedingly exposed to social comparison. What’s worse? It is proved to eventually lower their self-esteem and catalyze other side-effects on mental health.
How Does Social Media Affect Self-esteem?
As a typical social media user, one is likely to experience 2 most popular types of emotion: (1) the fulfillment of getting more Likes, Shares, and attention; (2) the overwhelming anxiety when realizing those interaction metrics are not as high as expected. The former acts as a temporary boost of oxytocin – a hormone that causes the feelings of love, empathy, trust – up to 13% to your brain. Apart from that, the latter can mess with our own way of self-evaluation.
Specifically, we take social metrics such as Likes, Comments, and Shares as a measure of validation, determined by the amount of interaction it represents. The more Likes we receive, the more content and gratifying we feel. Yet, it’s just a tip of the iceberg that makes us turn a blind eye to what’s really happening behind.
When our feelings depend on this virtual method of measurement, we are prioritizing others’ opinions over our own. This means that we are valuing their judgment according to an arbitrary online scale. Sooner or later, our self-confidence will be damaged when personal dignity is presented in online topics. By constantly conforming to the public feedback and pressure of perfection, you have been deprived of your self-image – your own right to be who you are.
Effects of Social Media On Self-esteem
Self-esteem is a person’s evaluation of himself/herself with a positive attitude. For some people, it is stable like a perpetual flow of water; for others, their self-esteem is fragile and easily affected.
Popular social sites like Facebook or Instagram bring a host of benefits, ranging from free networking to topic exploring. It also encourages introverted people to initiate more conversation and expose themselves to the outside world. Despite all those upsides, plenty of research has suggested a major weakness: A social media feed full of the ideal presence of successful people will exert a negative influence on users.
Usually, someone who appears to be more vibrant, active, and healthy is considered an inspiration. Still, it doesn’t simply work like that on social media of the modern world.
In fact, these “superior” individuals are the driving factor behind another’s poor self-evaluation. On the one hand, they galvanize people to replicate a robust lifestyle and strive more for a better outcome and attitude. On the other hand, they inadvertently cause people to feel inferior sometimes. This correlates with a negative feeling and eventually lower self-esteem.
According to Chou and Edge (2012), some people often assume that whoever uses Facebook more frequently is probably having a happier and more successful life. In combination with low self-esteem, these signs can potentially lead to more serious mental disorders. Anxiety, depression, and dissatisfaction are among the most common illnesses.
On an interesting related note, girls are more likely to be affected by this social media effect than boys. As mentioned by Haferkamp, Eimler, Papadakis, & Kruck in 2012, women in general tend to compare themselves with each other online, especially when it comes to physical appearance.
For example, just a little trait among girls can make a huge difference in their way of self-reflection and thinking, such as “My makeup routine is not as stylish as hers”, or “Life cannot be fulfilled without the top trending line of fashion accessories.”
Avoid Media Effect on Self-esteem: How to Help Your Children
It is difficult to ignore the fact that parents who were born in a different era from nowadays can struggle with helping their children to tackle social media and self-esteem effects. It is not as simple as prohibiting them from touching the phone and using the apps. Instead, parents need to bend their minds to find the right solution.
Here is a guideline that can be useful for parents to follow:
This doesn’t mean that you need to put your children’s social accounts and activities under surveillance. What parents should recognize is social media’s positive and negative sides in the modern world. Hence, they will not be as innocent as a lamb when things get worse.
Encouragement works the best
It is suggested that parents exert themselves to have a personal talk with their children. First, gently mention and discuss their thoughts on other people’s wonderful photos. After that, try to find out whether it leads to negative feelings or not.
In worst-case scenarios, let your child know that they have done great work in life, they should be proud of their own effort. Also, don’t forget to teach them that social media remains a virtual system delivering virtual images that are vibrant on the screen, not in real life.
Take a break
If you’re anxious about your children’s high engagement in social media, put forward the idea of a “phone detox program”. After that, you can spend time together discussing further potential effects of social apps and suggest a better solution if necessary.
As a parent, we all want our children to live a truly happy life without being concerned about a smartphone app. Learning what is essentially good or bad on social media will pave the way for better self-confidence and self-esteem, which helps children to accept and be proud of who they are whatever challenges are awaiting.
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