The creation of social media sites and applications has changed the ways in which people interact, connect, and share with one another. Perhaps children and adolescents are the most affected by these technological advancements. Teens and pre-teens are among the highest consumers of social media. As the number of social media sites and apps increases, children and adolescents increase their usage (Anderson, 2018). So, questions arise regarding social media usage such as can too much time spent on social media impact the way children see themselves? Can social media usage affect a youth’s self-esteem?
Social media can be positive and negative. It’s positive for children to use social media as this platform allows them to share interests or posts about their favorite sports, celebrities, artists, and talents with a diverse group of like-minded individuals. However, social media can be negative if children are using social media as a measure of their likability or popularity (Koutamanis, 2015). Parents need to remember that even though technologies are quickly changing, the developmental needs of children remain the same (Orth, 2018).
Research has demonstrated an individual’s ability to verbalize a sense of his or her overall worth as a person emerges around the age of 8, which suggests that this time period is very crucial in the development of self-esteem (Orth, 2018). During this stage, children begin to discover their abilities and characteristics and begin their evolution into being known by and identifying with what they have discovered about themselves. Children in mid to late childhood (i.e., ages 8 to 10 years old) are able to understand that success in domains of personal importance promotes high self-esteem, whereas failure in these domains undermines their sense of competence and takes a toll on self-esteem (Orth, 2018).
As children emerge into late childhood and early adolescence, parental approval continues to affect self-esteem, but it is not as influential as peer approval (Erol, 2011).
During adolescence (i.e., ages 11-19 years old), youth are undergoing the process of identity development, and self-esteem is an important part of this development. During this developmental period, adolescents’ self-esteem is likely to be affected by the feedback they receive online through social media sites (Burrows, 2017). Teens describe social media platforms as a key tool for connecting and maintaining relationships, being creative, and learning more about other cultures and diverse peoples. Clearly, in these ways, social media usage can be a positive experience; however, youth are also exposed to the negative aspects of social media use, such as drama and bullying or feeling pressure to present themselves in a certain way (Anderson, 2018). Furthermore, adolescents tend to over interpret or misjudge the extent to which others are evaluating them, which can lead to a preoccupation with how they look in the eyes of others (Valkenburg, 2016). Positive feedback received online has been shown to enhance self-esteem, and negative feedback has been shown to have the reverse effect (Valkenburg, 2017).
Positive impacts on self-esteem can occur through interactions via social media if adolescents feel a sense of connectedness and support, but some experiences online may have a negative impact on self-esteem. The negative impact is not always caused by cyberbullying or a negative comment. When a child does not receive the expected or desired feedback or feels a sense of pressure to “perform” or post content, the right content, for “friends,” this pressure or stress can cause anxiety and will probably negatively affect a child’s self-esteem.
Today, parents must find a balance between mitigating the negative risks to their adolescent’s self-esteem that can happen when engaging in social media and allowing their youth to engage on social platforms. Realizing and enforcing this balance can lead to arguments or a parent’s guilt about his or her child being the outcast or “left behind” socially because he or she is not allowed to be on social media constantly.
Awareness of how much time your child spends on social media and the level of importance he or she places on social media interactions can be a telling factor into how these interactions are affecting your child’s self-esteem (Brewer, 2015). Social media’s negative effects on children may promote unhealthy behaviors like becoming isolated or irritable or experiencing a drop in grades or loss of interest in activities (Verduyn, 2017). To address these adverse effects and help their child develop social skills, parents could foster a sense of purpose through encouraging their child to engage in volunteering, sports, creative arts, clubs, or other in-person activities.
Parents are their children’s first teachers and understanding how to promote your child’s positive online interactions and build your child’s self-esteem can be done by modeling those behaviors. For example, parents may want to carefully consider if they want to post pictures of their child on social media and may want to think about the content of the photos. A “cute” picture of your child taking a bath may be embarrassing to your child. Model ethical behavior, ask permission from your children before posting online pictures or activities that involve them, and teach your children to respect the privacy of others.
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Orth, U., Erol Y., & Luciano, C. (2018). Development of self-esteem from age 4 to 94 years: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 144, 1045-1080. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000161
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