Self-esteem in the digital age
To better understand
As you know, adolescence is a very important developmental period. It’s when teenagers develop their self-esteem. In the digital age, social media platforms—with their selfies, videos, posts, stories, emojis, number of likes and followers, and subscriptions to influencers’ and celebrities’ pages—have a strong influence over the way teens see themselves. This is all part of a teenager’s daily life. Teens seek recognition from their friends. They also crave close contact and immediate validation from their peers. Digital technology lets them feel like this is possible. Social media is all about image and appearances. Profile pictures and posts become ways for teens to control their image. Seeing “perfect” pictures and videos scroll by on their phone all day can create complexes or make teens feel more insecure. In comparing themselves to others, teens tend to put themselves down, and their self-esteem can suffer as a result. It’s important to remember that things aren’t always what they seem on social media and the reality is often far different from the posts.
Digital technology has many positive aspects, including access to information and maintaining relationships. But, when misused or overused, it can also cause harm. Among teens, studies show potential negative effects such as decreased self-esteem, decreased concentration, memory and attention, and decreased social skills. There is also the risk of potential abuse, such as cyberbullying or sexual exploitation. Teens aren’t always able to identify and protect themselves against these risks.
According to a Montréal study done in 2020, recreational screen time of more than four hours per day is associated with a higher risk of dropping out of school. The study also found that these teens don’t sleep as well and have poorer mental and physical health.
To better support
- Help them identify the risks and dangers on the Internet.
- Talk to them about what information they can and can’t disclose in their messages, posts, photos, or videos. Discuss acceptable and unacceptable online behaviour.
- Talk to your teen about:
- the difference between reality and fiction on social media platforms;
- the way body image is shaped by social media;
- the influence of social media (e.g., number of likes) on self-esteem. Watch the video “À un cheveu d’être bien dans sa peau.” (French only)
- Chat with your teen about their friends on social media. For example, ask how they met, what they do together, if they hang out in person.
- Set rules with your teen on their Internet use, based on their developmental stage.
- Together, decide on when and for how long, and the content they’re allowed to view.
- Find out about parental controls and security settings. Change the device settings if needed but avoid banning screens completely. Forbidding something outright only makes it more appealing to teens.
- Be present during your teen’s screen time. Ask them about what they see on different social media platforms. For example, talk about the difference between reality and fiction or the way body image is presented in the media.
- Watch videos with your teen and read articles that talk about how people’s faces and bodies are altered on social media (e.g., using Photoshop to make someone look completely different). Then talk about it
- Encourage sites with educational content or that create an opportunity for family time, for example, tutorials, family movie night, study or support groups.
- Pay attention to your own screen habits. Your use of screens influences your teen’s behaviour. You can act as a role model, for example, by not comparing yourself to or criticizing photos on social media and by not editing your own photos.
- Do screen-free activities as a family. Make a list with your teen of things to do that don’t involve screens. Encourage them to explore new interests that will help them learn more about themselves and develop their self-esteem based on more than just their physical appearance.
- Compliment your teen and point out their good qualities. Highlight their achievements and efforts. Your comments will help shape them into the adults they will become, based on their whole person and not just their physical appearance.
- Think about your own relationship with social media, the images you see, and the comments you make about physical appearance. Your teen learns a lot from watching you.
- Your teen’s relationship with social media doesn’t have to be perfect. Finding the right balance with other activities (e.g., sports, school, job) is always the goal. Encourage feel-good content as much as possible, so you feel less guilty when your teen occasionally spends time on more questionable sites.
- Parents need to monitor what their teens are watching and supervise younger kids to make sure their screen time is a positive experience. The level of parental supervision is based on the child’s age and abilities and changes over time.
Resources and practical tools
1. For support:
Do you have concerns about your teen’s development or behaviour? Do not hesitate to reach out to a support worker or a healthcare professional:
Latest updates: december 2022