Problems with social media – don’t feed the trolls
“People say things they would never say to your face. It seems to give them the ‘right’ to be rude and thoughtless, and it’s really gross. When people insult you up there, they don’t have to see how you react – it’s horrible. I realized that if you let that sort of feedback rule your life, you’re letting people who are too weedy to even own up to their feelings affect your whole self-esteem. I thought: ‘No thanks!’” Madeleine*, 14
Social media can change girls' definition of what’s acceptable
“Certain girls get lots of Likes, and if you’re not that kind of girl, you won’t get the Likes. There’s a very narrow definition of what’s OK. People who don’t fit in have to try very hard: they have to try things like wearing their skirt too high, or unbuttoning their shirt too low, or caking on the make-up or the fake tan. To get positive feedback and extra mentions, most girls sex themselves up. It’s a sad reflection of our age I guess.” India*, 16
Teenage girls are hardwired to like social media
There's conflicting evidence about the effects of social media on teenage girls. Research indicates it can both help and harm their feelings of self-worth and acceptance.
According to clinical psychologist and mother of two teenage daughters, Dr Tara Cousineau, parents need to understand that young people are wired for socialization.
What makes social networking so compelling for young people in general, and teenage girls in particular, is a fusion of two features of female adolescence. One is a deep-seated instinct to reach out beyond their family, to broaden their social circle and make new friends. And the other is an innate drive for activities that sharpen and stretch their mind.
“Social media is so compelling at this stage, because it answers both their need for friendship and their need for brain stimulation,” explains Dr Cousineau. “It’s not that girls are trying to be difficult or stubborn over this; it’s that they can’t keep away from it – it’s attention-grabbing, and understanding that is fundamental to helping your daughter.”
Setting your child up for social media success
How do you help your child use social media successfully? You want them to find their true self and not become obsessed with comparing themselves to others or perfecting their profile image. You want them to have a strong sense of self-worth based on their talents, personal qualities and tangible friendships.
There’s no shortcut to self-esteem. It comes from strong relationships and achieving goals – so it’s something your child will build on bit by bit. The best thing you can do to help is model a strong sense of self-worth in your own life (real and virtual). When opportunities arise, talk about true friends and self-respect. If you’re struggling with your own self-esteem, get help – in addressing your issues, you’ll be helping your child too.
*To protect privacy, we’ve changed the names of people whose stories we tell on these pages, but their stories are genuine.
Action checklist Limiting the influence of social media