Social Media and Self Esteem
I don’t normally watch adverts, mainly because I rarely watch TV at a time when what I want to watch is actually on, and so end up fast forwarding through the breaks. The other day though I must have been watching something which was actually on and an advert caught my eye. It was an animated one for Dove based on building self-esteem through cartoons.
I’ve been known to struggle with social media. At different points in my life I’ve worried about keeping up with other people, about posting a modified version of myself rather than the truth, you know, all the best bits and ignoring the others. I’ve felt like my friends list was proof that people like me, even though some people on it barely knew me, and I’ve felt jealous of others, or like I was being compared to them. Most of that was when I was really struggling both with my anxiety and with my drinking, and in the past, but I’m still aware that it was there. It makes me slightly wary of it still. Over time I deleted the majority of the people on my friends list, my criteria being that if I wouldn’t stop to talk to someone in the street they shouldn’t be on my Facebook. For a time, I even deleted all my accounts, but I like seeing what those are close to me are up to, and before long I reactivated them.
Seeing the adverts by Dove really struck a chord with me. From experience I can see the good and the bad side of social media. It isn’t something that is going to go away, and it is not necessarily so ‘bad’ as it can seem, although like anything it can be used in a bad way. We need to teach our kids to use it carefully rather than to be afraid of it. It’s an integral part of out lives. I feel for my kids, because when I was young, I was able to go home from school and have a rest from classroom politics. Our children today are often in constant contact, whether they want to be or not, and even when they want to take a step back, they are then afraid that they will miss out, that something will happen and they’ll be excluded because they weren’t part of the conversation. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for social media at the moment, many of our children would be isolated from their friends and classmates.
My daughter is a prime example of this, when she was younger and in the last year of secondary school she had a falling out with her ‘friends’. She felt isolated and got at, like she was being targeted in group chats, and yet was reluctant to leave them because at least while she was in them she knew what was being said. It’s hard to balance participation with the fear of missing out. I don’t think stopping kids from using social media is the answer though, it’s not going to go away. It’s a useful form of connection, especially when people are unable to meet up, whether that is because of lockdown or because of distance. It also enables you to connect when you are anxious or unable to leave your home. You can connect with like-minded people regardless of geography, time zone, or your physical state.
What we need to teach our children is responsibility and resilience.
Dove say that, “Social media plays an increasingly influential role in shaping our definition of beauty[.]” The statistics are worrying;
• Many girls use an average of 4 different social networks, with 1 in 2 being on ‘all the time’.
• It takes 12 minutes for an average girl in the UK to prepare to take one selfie.
• Between the age of 13-18 years it is suggested that the number of girls who think social networks make them feel worse about themselves doubles. This is from 30% at 13 to 60% at 18 years old.
• The need for likes increases, with girls of 18-23 wanting three times more likes than those aged 13-17.
I really like the message that is part of the campaign, that beauty is in all of us, and we shouldn’t look or behave the same. I think that this is something that should be reinforced for our young people, whether they are girls or boys. They should know it doesn’t matter that we are not all the same, that each of us is strong and vulnerable in different ways and just because it is not obvious from the outside that someone is insecure, does not mean they aren’t. We should be ensuring that we are respectful and kind to everyone, and let everyone be themselves as long as it doesn’t do any harm. Although, this is often easier said than done. The more that we teach our youngsters to accept everyone for their strengths and their differences, the more understanding I hope we will all be.
Words do hurt. Instead of telling our kids to brush it off, maybe we should be teaching them to express themselves confidently and be proud of who they are, inside and out. We should be listening to their concerns and validating them, whether we think they are valid or not, because like it or not, it does matter to our youngsters, even if we can’t see what they think is an imperfection. By supporting them and showing them how to love themselves and by modelling that in our own behaviour towards ourselves, we will empower them to do the same.