The Social Eyes on Adolescents
Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read how social media could affect your teens. I was very curious about this topic of research and found interesting findings.
As we start focusing on this topic of social media and body image with adolescents, we think of what findings have shown to affect the lives of teens. During the adolescent stage, individuals are motivated and pressured by how others want them to look and the amount of online social media likes. Selfies, editing, and one's relationship with their parents or caregiver can lead to how the individual feels about their body image on and offline. Adolescents use social media to connect with friends, peers, and to show how a part of their life is in some way.
You're probably wondering if this affects differently for teenage boys and girls. Teenagers having the ability to retake and retouch their selfies to their satisfaction before posting it did not mitigate women's anxiety significantly (5). Findings show that men used social media tools to look appealing to others and did not seem to put as much pressure on themselves like women. Adolescent girls become aware of how they want to portray themselves on social media. It can lead to a rise in confidence or a downfall in self-esteem.
Self-esteem is essential in someone's life. It helps an individual feel sure of oneself or completely insecure. Social media adds a more significant factor to this aspect of an adolescent's life. One may begin to compare, receive, and develop certain behaviors that can be harmful to them. A particular protective personal characteristic that may serve as a buffer against social comparisons, harmful media messages, and disordered eating behaviors is adolescents' sense of empowerment, that is, their ability to withstand and critically analyze social and peer pressure (3). As harmful as social media can be, it can serve as a form for teenagers to show the real them and be empowered by positive accounts. Networking with others can help adolescents get to know individuals for future job offers or opportunities. Self-esteem needs to be checked on and a priority for anyone, especially an adolescent.
Social Media Impacts
Being sure of oneself can be the power of an individual's life and the social media tools seem to give that power to an adolescent. One form of these tools is through selfies and editing. For instance, Instagram has a range of filters and enhancements through their posts and stories for the user's liking. Social media provides the opportunity to carefully curate one's image through generating and selecting photos that present oneself as maximally attractive, and then editing those photos to further increase attractiveness (e.g., applying filters to look thinner) (1). It can make an adolescent love a part of themselves that is being created by social media. The media applications have perks of making us feel an extra boost of confidence, but as parents reading this, social media should not define your teens as individuals. This reminder could be something you can send to them and start a conversation on how social media has affected them.
Another level of social media is the rise of influencers and celebrities. The top users of these applications are well-known individuals like Selena Gomez, Cristiano Ronaldo, The Rock, Ariana Grande, and Kylie Jenner. They show their luxury lifestyle and body through their social media. You would think that these posts may cause adolescents to compare themselves to celebrities as the main effect. However, this concept is not the case. This might be due to the fact that peers are perceived more similar to themselves than celebrities and therefore are more relevant to compare themselves with (6). For adolescents, the people they share their time with in their neighborhood, home, and school make more of an impact in comparison to celebrities. Many teenagers in these studies know that celebrities have more benefits and a different type of lifestyle that is harder to compare. As for their peers, they live similar lifestyles and seeing results or beauty on social media may make teenagers jealous or motivated. In the adolescent's mind, there is that possibility of seeing a friend or peer looking better.
It connects back to self-esteem how adolescents view themselves and their worth for themselves online and offline. The current studies highlight how concerns about physical appearance on social media may not only affect adolescents when they are actively using social media, but also during their "offline" moments (2). Social media impacts may be seen as relevant during only social media online hours for the adolescent, but offline has as much importance as the relationship with others in the adolescent's life. Before we get into the relationship aspect, offline time should be set for adolescents' goals and focus on what they want to accomplish in life. The majority of teenagers tend to think more about what others believe about them and not what they believe about themselves. The adolescent starting this conversation with themselves and others can help them gain individuality to practice for young adulthood at a young age. It all starts with what type of relationships are around them as well.
Each part of social media impacts an adolescent's life but the last one and the most important is offline with the parent-adolescent relationship. Before adolescents joined the social media world, they were kids learning from the world through your teachings and eyes. They follow what you tell them through the years and it can create either a positive or negative impact of how they view themselves. Parents not only convey messages about appearance ideals to their children, but the parent–adolescent relationship itself also plays a role in the development of adolescents' body dissatisfaction (7). It is important for you, as the parent, to have a talk with your adolescent daughter or son on how your relationship has helped or hindered the way they view their body. For example, parents might criticize their children for being too skinny, too fat, or not being enough. These comments and pressures can affect a teenager's mindset once being on social media and dissatisfied with their body. The development of a strong, caring, and open parent-adolescent relationship can enhance an adolescent's self-esteem and worth to be secured out in the real world. Parenting styles explain how impactful and beneficial it can be to maintain a positive relationship between you and the teen and for them online and offline with other peers and mentors. The authoritarian style is characterized by parental control of children's behavior, lack of cooperation and trust, and little open communication. The authoritative parenting style is characterized by a demanding attitude and maintenance of clear boundaries and supervision but accompanied by warmth, open dialogue, and support (4). Every parent chooses what type of way they want to discipline their child and later on as adolescents. The most important thing for a parent-adolescent relationship is to have that open communication and support. Once teenagers are in high school, it becomes essential to have dialogue and support them through their journey of learning about their identity and confusions that might lead to low or high self-esteem.
I am not an expert at parenting since I do not have kids yet. The research has helped me appreciate my parents and caregivers in all they taught me. No one gives you a book on how to be a parent. Parenting is a whole other level of obstacles for parents of adolescents, but I want you to know that you got this! Believe in yourself and start or continue to develop that relationship and communication with your teens.
(1) (Fox & Vendemia, 2016; McLean, Paxton, Wertheim, & Masters, 2015, as cited in Choukas-Bradley et al., 2020).
(2) (Choukas-Bradley et al., 2020).
(3) (Peterson, Grippo, & Tantleff-Dunn, 2008, as cited in Latzer et al., 2015).
(4) (Maccoby & Martin, 1983, as cited in Latzer et al., 2015).
(5) (Mills et al., 2018).
(6) (Kleemans et al., 2016).
(7) (Bearman et al. 2006, as cited in de Vries et al., 2018).
Choukas-Bradley, S., Nesi, J., Widman, L., & Galla, B. M. (2020). The appearance-related social media consciousness scale: Development and validation with adolescents. Body Image, 33, 164-174. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.02.017
de Vries, D. A., Peter, J., de Graaf, H., & Nikken, P. (2015). Adolescents’ social network site use, peer appearance-related feedback, and body dissatisfaction: Testing a mediation model. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(1), 211–224. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-015-0266-4
de Vries, D. A., Vossen, H. G. M., & van der Kolk – Van Der Boom, P. (2018). Social media and body dissatisfaction: Investigating the attenuating role of positive parent– adolescent relationships. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48(3), 527–536. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-018-0956-9
Kleemans, M., Daalmans, S., Carbaat, I., & Anschütz, D. (2016). Picture perfect: The direct effect of manipulated instagram photos on body image in adolescent girls. Media Psychology, 21(1), 93–110. https://doi.org/10.1080/15213269.2016.1257392
Mills, J. S., Musto, S., Williams, L., & Tiggemann, M. (2018). “Selfie” harm: Effects on mood and body image in young women. Body Image, 27, 86–92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2018.08.007