SOCIAL MEDIA AND SELF-ESTEEM

By: Ashleigh Maier

In my preteen and early teenage years, the “cool” mode of social media was MySpace. This came with posting statuses, finding coding for a profile page layout, and none other than the notorious “Top Friends” feature. While social media was a part of my life, I wouldn’t say that it consumed me, because we didn’t have smartphones, and we weren’t able to access MySpace on computers at school. However, personally I can say that I was totally affected by the way my friends and acquaintances talked to me, and also very concerned about where I sat on the Top Friends list of my closest pals.

Fast forward to 2019, and preteens/teens have not one platform for social media, but at least four, thinking about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. In addition, I’ve heard of TikTok, but don’t know as much about that mode. Not only do they have more social media outlets, but they have devices that allow them to get lost in it 24/7.

Evidence from a University of London paper discovered that 40% of girls and 25% of boys are experiencing online bullying, which then leads to depressive symptoms. Adolescents who spend a significant amount of time looking at screens also are more likely to report having abnormal sleep patterns, low self-esteem, and a negative body image. It was also found that the content and context of the information being consumed on screens is more influential than the time spent behind screens. With the growth in social media influencers, it’s not necessarily surprising that screen time influences body image and self-esteem. I’ll admit as a 25 year old woman that it can be a bit depressing watching beautiful women live glamorous lives filled with free clothes being sent to them left and right. It’s exhausting for me, so I can’t imagine how it would feel for a 13-16 year old girl. If any of you have seen “Eighth Grade,” it’s a great coming-of-age film that showcases the social anxiety issues that can come with being completely engulfed in social media.

Photo credit to Vox.com

The rapid growth of social media has definitely presented issues in terms of conducting research, so there will likely be more to come on this topic, as well as more to come on how we can use social media to our advantage in our personal lives. It’s a great way to connect with friends and family who live far away, but it’s important to take a step back and recognize that too much of anything can be harmful.

So, advice to young people living behind a screen (as many of us inherently do): leave your phone outside the bedroom, enjoy meals without phones at your fingertips, and get more exercise. Although readers of this blog may not be teens, I would think it’s sound advice for all of us.

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Twitter: @trashleighmaier
Instagram: @ashleighmaier


This Article Has 18 Comments
  1. Tom Bridger says:

    Thanks for the post Ashleigh. As someone who is going to be starting a family in the next few years, it terrifies me to think what social media will look like 15 years down the road. I was recently at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference where NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke about how many players around the league are depressed and unhappy. He directly related this to our increased use of social media, and how we are constantly being judged, critiqued, trolled, and hated on. It’s an interest paradox in that we are more connected than ever via social media, yet NBA athletes feel desperately alone. Social media can make us feel connected, but it can also lead us to feel isolated and without true companionship.

  2. Iyanna Soltero says:

    Ashleigh, yes!! We also can’t forget about the “comment for comment” part of MySpace. I fully admit to caring so much about what classmates thought about my statuses or latest album uploads. I would only get satisfaction if they left hearts or smiley faces on my posts. How weird is that? Honestly, I don’t know how much has actually changed since then. We still find ourselves seeking approval from others on social media. I’ve even witnessed people delete their Instagram post because it didn’t get “enough” likes. I started using social media when I was young, probably like 13 or 14, but you’re right about not always having the 24/7 access back then. Young teens now do have that access with smartphones and I can only imagine how detrimental that truly is.

  3. Kaisa Lightfoot says:

    That is SUCH good advice, Ashleigh! I had Myspace and then Facebook when I was in high school but I cannot imagine what it would have bene like to have social media in middle school. For me, I think that would have been a real game changer for the worse. Now, kids seem to have an increased opportunity to bully and be bullied online. Not to mention, the computer I used was plugged into the wall in a family space–not in my hands and on a small screen for my eyes only. I’d be interested on learning more about how parents today structure their child’s phone use and initiate discussion around how to treat people on social media in addition to the playground.

  4. Lexi Naone says:

    Ashleigh, this article is awesome. I like to say that I don’t get wrapped up in social media but I forsure do. Influencers and celebrities make it hard for people to be comfortable and happy with themselves. Like Kaisa said, I would be interested in seeing how parents monitor their children’s phone and social media use.

  5. Matthew McGonegal says:

    Hi Ashleigh, thanks for writing about such an important subject. I think that mental health and social media will be a public health discussion for decades to come as the link between social comparison and low self-esteem continues to be researched. This will be a matter of concern for the generations who will grow up with their entire lives published online and endless opportunities to compare themselves to others. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Taylor Kissinger says:

    Hi Ashleigh,

    I agree with everything you’ve said in this post! And thank you for linking that NY Times article. I’m going to flag it and use it in my literature review for my thesis, which is also about the effects of social media on young people. There is an endless stream of content for kids to be on 24/7. Social media itself is designed to keep you from logging off (video autoplays, constant notifications, etc.) Based on my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s harmful and detrimental for kids to be constantly plugged into social media. I think that parents should discuss healthy social media usage with their children and teens, including kindness online, limiting time on apps, and rooting self-esteem in the real world.

  7. Yichi Zhang says:

    I really like this topic, Ashleigh. The issue you pointed out reminds me a movie I watched couple of years ago: unfriended. The movies was about online bullying, but it also reflected a phenomenon, which is young teenagers are spending way more time on social media than before. We are spending too much time on it, and we are overly rely on it. Online environment is a double edge sword, we can learn good things from it and we can also receive negative influence from it. Sometimes we don’t even know how a tiny move from us can deeply influence others through internet. I believe some online regulations need to be approved in the future to protect teenage online users from online bullying.

  8. Kirbi Campbell says:

    This is such a great post, one that we can absolutely all relate to, I know I can. Those were already such awkward years, I could not imagine having Instagram and Snapchat back in middle school, scary thought. I agree that it must be hard for young preteens who are just figuring out themselves to always be comparing to what is online, it is unhealthy. I think it is great advice to always be encouraging a little less screen time and just enjoying life.

  9. Kaytlyn Lozano says:

    Hi Ashleigh!

    Great post and definitely something all of us can relate too. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to post without the need to feel concerned about the number of likes or impressions I get. I know many people who have been victims of online bullying and have definitely felt like comparing myself to others. I think one thing parents need to be mindful of in the future is actually sitting down with their children to discuss the pros AND cons to social media usage. In the age of technology, it is important to be wary of how we raise future generations to use these devices.

  10. Carly Grossman says:

    This is a post I know a lot of people are able to relate to. It’s an important issue that should be talked about more. We grew up in a very different time. My brother is in high school, and I look at his pictures and his girl friends Instagrams, and it’s crazy how old these 14, 15, 16 year old girls look and try to look online. I could not imagine having an Instagram or different forms of social media when I was that age. It was hard enough without it. I really enjoyed reading your article, Ashleigh. It’s important to be aware of how you feel and what you are thinking when you are looking at social media.

  11. Natalie Stone says:

    Hi Ashleigh!

    Thank you so much for sharing. What an interesting topic! I can vividly remember clicking through my peers Myspace pages at sleepovers in 7th grade. I was never allowed to have one, but my friends would occasionally let me use their logins so I could check out our classmate’s profiles. Myspace was a huge issue at my school in particular because of the anonymity that social media promotes. Although I was not directly experiencing the effects of social media at an early age, which I am of course thankful for looking back on everything, I really hope that younger generations find better ways to use social media for good.

  12. Bella Barilati says:

    Hi Ashleigh!

    This post really hits home for me- I feel as if so many of us have seen bullying on social media either first hand or to close friends. I think this a subject that is on several teenagers minds. In High School, one of my friends was bullied so intensely on social media that she had to transfer schools. This issue has only increased over time, and due to social media reaching kids as young as 5th graders, it is affecting an even wider age range of kids. To give children and teenagers the power of being behind a screen to bully on another is a major con of social media. I really appreciate you writing about this important issue.

    Thanks!
    Bella Barilati

  13. Bodie Crist says:

    Hey Ashleigh!

    I can absolutely relate to your post and your experience with social media. One thing that I think is really interesting to look at is parasocial interactions and how interactions with social media influencers can shape the mental state of users as well as their online experience. Because influencers take on this persona of being the “friend” of the content consumer, they can drastically influence their purchasing habits through recommendations and sponsored products. High school students can be particularly susceptible to these tactics, so it presents a scenario where advertisers need to be considerate of the audience certain influencers may have. They need to make sure that by using influencer partnerships, they understand what kind of business they are running and the ethical implications of that business.

  14. arassou2 says:

    I can totally relate to this post! I feel like I am guilty of being absorbed and consumed by social media and my smart phone. I remember after I got my first IPhone my mom noticed me getting a little attitude with her. She said I had changed since I got the phone and she threatened to take it away. Nowadays having social media and an IPhone is like second nature. One of the first things I do every morning is check my notifications and feed. I totally see a correlation between social media and anxiety. Sometimes I stay up stalking myself on Instagram. I probably stalk myself on Instagram at least once a day. I think I do this because I want to see what other people see of me. Whenever I notice myself doing this I feel ashamed and I feel like it is so unhealthy. It has caused me to have a love hate relationship with social media as I love being connected to people but resent the way it makes me feel when I end up comparing my profile to other people’s.

  15. Ryan Robledo says:

    Hi Ashleigh, this post is very informative and really does open up people’s eyes on the dangers of social media. It’s very upsetting knowing how much people get affected by something someone said online but it’s so much worse knowing that a lot of people, including myself, get insecure because of people they see on their social media platforms. It’s hard to not believe that everyone in the world looks as amazing as Ryan Reynolds or Blake Lively because that’s all our social media platforms tell us! In my opinion, Instagram is the worst when it comes to this because Instagram is a platform for some people to show off their best photos of themselves. Our brains absorb this as the real world and sometimes it’s hard to realize its nothing like that.

  16. Samuel Cochran says:

    Hi Ashleigh,

    I agree with your post. I have seen quite a few news stories that support your argument. Recently, I watched a program that showed a correlation between the year that smartphones came out (2007) and the increase in suicides among teens and pre-teens. It also showed that suicides and attempts are beginning earlier and earlier. I believe that the program quoted the average age of smart phone users is 10.4 years old. That is insane! Guests on the program questioned whether Congress should enact laws against smart phone use to protect children. This may be an appropriate step, but one thing that seems to be missing is involved parenting. I think that many parents give their children smartphones as a means to supplement their own duties/responsibilities of parenting. In essence, they are giving them phones to entertain them so that they can free up more time for themselves. Whether or not laws should be implemented, parents need to be more involved IMO.

  17. Meghan says:

    Hi Ashleigh,
    What a relatable post. I remember growing up with iChat and would find myself always logging on after school. I used iChat to video chat with people from my class. I had only about five or six contacts on my account and considered them all my best friends. That was the only form of social media I can recall using. Today, smart phones are second nature to adolescents. Every platform and form of social media is at their fingertips. This is such an important issue that should be further addressed. Sadly, I can only see it getting worse.

  18. Destiny Alvarez says:

    Hi Ashleigh, thank you for your post! I think this is an incredibly relevant topic in the world we live in today. Last term a classmate of mine reported on social media and anxiety. It’s crazy to think that all of our lives and how we feel about them can be determined by social media alone. I’ve heard so many stories of cyberbullying, and it breaks my heart to think of how many people are affected by this. Taking a step back can benefit us sometimes. Thanks for the insights!!

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