Social networks have a negative impact on teenagers' self-esteem

During the COVID-19 pandemic, teenagers spent a lot of time on the internet, and especially on social networks. In doing so, they likely came across posts from peers, influencers, and complete strangers showing idealised images of their lives and bodies. Such posts can have a negative impact on teenagers and their self-esteem. The situation among young people has especially worsened during the pandemic, as noted by Slovenian Helpline Tom telefon and Slovenian Awareness Centre

Date 2021-08-13 Author Slovenian Safer Internet Centre Section awareness Topic media literacy/education, online reputation, potentially harmful content Audience children and young people, parents and carers, teachers, educators and professionals
Young woman looking at smartphone

Social networks can have a big impact on those users – and especially teenagers – who are at a sensitive stage of personal development. When we look at photos of beautiful, happy and perfect people, we often forget that those photos are specifically selected to show an ideal but unrealistic depiction of life, and that filters or other editing software are usually used to enhance and manipulate the pictures.

Influencers who are active on Instagram, TikTok, Twitch and other social networks are significantly impacting teenagers' self-esteem. They are followed by children and youth who see them as role models and try to emulate them. However, they often forget or ignore the fact that those great-looking photos or videos are indeed the result of extensive behind-the-scenes work. Seemingly attractive or fit influencers put a lot of effort into improving their body image: they constantly follow strict diets under the supervision of experienced nutritionists, work out regularly for several hours a day in gyms under the guidance of personal trainers, and some even opt for cosmetic surgery. They often have professional teams of photographers, make-up artists, authors, directors, producers and graphic designers assisting them in their everyday activities.  

Advertising, which inundates our society on a daily basis, including in the digital world, also plays a huge role. Advertisements often portray an ideal world with beautiful and happy people. Of course, these representations are nothing but marketing approaches with the goal of maximising sales of certain goods and services. Educating children and youth about what an advertisement really is – and the purposes for which it is made – is an important step in raising awareness about media and online literacy.

In the highly-digital environment we live in, where social network algorithms intentionally pick which posts to display first based on our likes and interactions, teenagers do not yet have fully-formed personalities and are searching for their place in society. Therefore, they can easily fall victim to the negative influences described above, and this can lead to developing misconceptions about themselves, their worth, the world, and life in general. Their bodies are often different from the ideals shown: they are shaped differently, they do not have those curves, their muscles are not so well-defined, they may have pimples, freckles and so on. Looking at unrealistic pictures online ultimately lowers their self-esteem, corrupts their healthy self-image, and they begin to feel ashamed of their own bodies. This, in turn, can lead to serious psychological problems, eating disorders, the misperception of self-image, various behavioural difficulties, among other challenges.

To maintain a healthy self-esteem, teenagers and youth should always keep in mind that:

  • On the internet, most of the time, only the most beautiful and “picture-perfect” moments of life are shown.
  • The images used in advertising are usually manipulated and not realistic.
  • Influencers sell and work with their public image and therefore most of their content is staged with the help of a professional team that curates that image on social networks.

Lastly, some important advice for teens on how to maintain high self-esteem includes:

  • Resist peer and social pressure to post pictures and expose yourself online. Listen to yourself, respect your boundaries and only follow your needs, desires and beliefs.
  • You are beautiful just the way you are. Do not compare your image to the unrealistic online images of influencers and celebrities.
  • Above all, make sure that your self-esteem, well-being, and happiness are not dependant on the feedback you receive on social media. You should try and ignore negative comments and solely focus on the positive ones instead.

Find out more about the work of the Slovenian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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