Kids have always looked to their peers for validation and self-worth, especially teens and tweens. That’s nothing new. But in today’s social media-obsessed culture, it’s easy for young people to become overly fixated on their online popularity. Instead of gauging their popularity by the number of friends they have in real life, adolescents are increasingly evaluating their social status and self-image by the number of people who follow them on Twitter or “like” their selfies on Instagram.
The danger of an online popularity contest
The pressure to be popular can be hard enough on adolescents, but when the popularity contest moves from high school hallways to social media networks, it can be downright overwhelming. Tweens and teens may become stressed, anxious, and even depressed as they spend more and more time crafting their online identities in order to gain favor from other social media users. Social media peer pressure can cause young people to post risqué pictures including revealing selfies and/or party pics in an effort to be liked online. Unfortunately, this strategy often backfires and sometimes with devastating results.
The trouble with online relationships
Research suggests that teens are relying more on social media for emotional support than traditional sources of encouragement such as a face-to-face conversation or a phone call with a friend. The problem with this trend is two-fold. First, social media has made it more challenging for parents to keep up with their kids’ peer groups, and secondly, it appears that online friendships can be even more influential than their real-life relationships, making digital peer pressure a real concern.
What can parents do?
Concerns over social media’s effect on your child’s self-esteem are well-founded, but there are some things you can do to foster a healthy self-image despite this influence:
– Provide plenty of opportunities for tweens and teens to interact with peers offline.
– If your teen is posting selfies online, be sure they are practicing selfie safety.
– Teach the difference between superficial “selfie-esteem” and genuine self-esteem. Cultivate the latter.
– Make sure your child knows what to do if they fall victim to cyberbullying.