Teens and their parents can combat the negative effects of social media by practicing a few simple steps to help increase self-esteem and confidence.
The benefits of social media are undeniable. With just a few clicks, we can build new connections with people from around the world. We can plug into our favorite interests, enjoy entertaining content, and learn more on subjects that intrigue us.
Social media also empowers us to express ourselves, share our unique stories, and broadcast our diverse perspectives and experiences like no other generation before. Nevertheless, there are both pros and cons of social media.
A recent study by the U.S. Surgeon General found that young people are more likely to say that social media negatively affects their mental health especially when it comes to body image, self-esteem and self-confidence.
While these concerns impact boys and girls, teen girls in the U.S. are experiencing increased mental health challenges. The CDC reports 3 in 5 teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 – double that of boys and the highest level reported over the past decade.
Furthermore, a survey of 1,000 girls ages 10-17 conducted by Boys & Girls Clubs of America national partner Dove found that 90% of girls say they follow at least one social media account that makes them feel less beautiful.
With social media, girls seeking validation from their peers also feel pressure to look “perfect” in photos in order to generate more likes and follows.
“Social media platforms can be harmful because of beauty influencers and models who project unrealistic beauty standards,” says Kathleen G., Club teen at Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica. “It causes many to ask, ‘Why don’t I look like that?’”
Yet, even as teens are seeking to reflect social media beauty standards, they are also doing their part to subvert them. More and more girls are posting images of their natural hair and skin with such hashtags as #nomakeupselfie and #bodypositivity.
We spoke with Kathleen G. and other Club teen girls and they shared the following tips for coping with unrealistic beauty standards and the negative effects of social media on mental health.
At any age, practicing self-love is one of the best ways to be calm and confident.
“Don’t hurt or force yourself to fit into those beauty standards,” says Kathleen G. “They are labeled as unrealistic for a reason. And many of those standards can’t be met without doing something that is potentially psychologically or physically harmful.” Kathleen G. practices self-acceptance by actively showing herself compassion, challenging her inner critic, and appreciating her natural traits and abilities.
“I think about things I love about myself, things that are unique,” Kathleen G. says. “These positive thoughts often outweigh the bad and make me love everything about me.”
Fellow Club teen Lesley A. adds, “We really shouldn’t change ourselves to fit in with any standards. We should be happy with who and how we are, but I know that’s easier said than done.”
To help everyone be able to practice self-love and acceptance with confidence, many state and local governments such as Madison, Wisc., and the District of Columbia have begun to provide protection from discrimination based on physical appearance. Additionally, 23 states have passed the CROWN Act, a law that prohibits discrimination against Black women and girls based on natural textures and protective hairstyles.
In the 1920s, it was all the rage to appear as androgynous as possible. Ten years later, an hourglass figure was the look. All throughout history, from Ancient Egypt to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” society and pop culture have redefined what does and does not constitute beauty.
While ideals of “perfection” are always shifting, having a healthy self-esteem can be a foundation that supports young people through every trend.
“Beauty standards are always changing,” says Lesly A. “Should we really change ourselves to fit in? No, we should not.”
Putting your personal health, happiness and peace of mind first can help you redefine what “beauty” means to you. Social media influencers who are comfortable being themselves and who use their platform to promote positive messages are often the ones who have a supportive impact on others.
Do yourself a favor by daring to be different.
In 2018, researchers found that limiting or taking extended breaks from social media may significantly reduce depression and improve overall well-being.
Nohemi H., Club teen at Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor says, “I like to spend time in places where I truly feel like myself. I like surrounding myself with nature, family, friends, and other spaces that make me feel truly happy to be where I am. Once there, I try to keep my mind at ease and remind myself that life is purposeful and that everything in my life has had a purpose.”
Besides being a major mood booster, taking time away from social media can reduce the incidence of eye strain, headaches and neck pain as well as FOMO or “the fear of missing out.” Social media sabbaticals also help improve sleep quality, self-confidence, self-awareness and the ability to focus for increased academic and work productivity.
Says Lesly A., “Taking a good shower, listening to music, taking a nap, going outside, and hanging out with others are all things I do to relieve stress and take time away from social media.”
Repeating positive, affirming words can be helpful in providing a boost of confidence during moments of anxiety, stress or diminished self-worth.
“We are our greatest motivator,” says Nohemi H. “During times when I feel as if I do not belong, that’s when I tell myself, ‘I am doing great. I belong.’”
A positive affirmation is a brief, truthful statement that represents who and what we want to be in life. These concise personal declarations are quick, easy strategies to reflect on personal values and combat negative thoughts.
Some self-affirmation ideas for teen girls:
At Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation, young people can take part in the Dove Self-Esteem Project to build the critical life skills and self-assurance they need to take on modern challenges with confidence.
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