Maintaining a Positive Self Image in a World with Social Media

For many parents, the battle to delay their child becoming active in social media starts earlier than we would like to admit. Professional Counselor & Registered Play Therapist, Laura McLaughlin, talks about what you can do as a parent to help your child navigate this new world.

kids social media

According to new research, 81% of 9-17 year olds report visiting a social media site within the last 3 months, with 71% of these children visiting social media sites weekly. Even if your child does not have his or her own profile, they are still using or have access to social media when they are with friends or siblings. Many parents love to share photos of their children on the parent’s own social media account, and children have started becoming aware of this and often track the number of likes their parent receives for every photo of them their parent posts. We are unintentionally opening our children to an addiction to external praise and motivation in more passive ways than ever before.

Here’s what we know about self-image and social media: it’s an inverse relationship. The more we use social media, the more our self-image seems to decline. Adolescents are at the highest risk for self- image taking a hit because it is the age group in which children begin to place much more emphasis on peer perceptions and influences as opposed to parents and other important adults and caregivers. Starting around the age of 10, peer acceptance becomes the most important thing in many children’s lives – and they will do just about anything to gain acceptance into a desired group. It’s becoming more and more difficult for tweens and teens to maintain a positive self-image when they have constant access to everyone else’s happiest, best, and most edited and filtered experiences online.

With so many negative consequences of social media use, how do we help our children maintain a positive self-image while also not causing them to feel totally disconnected? The key is to help our children develop a healthy self-image and healthy ways of navigating social media, rather than just forbidding and outlawing social media use altogether. We won’t always be there to ensure these limits, so helping your child develop healthy patterns of social media use is more effective than banning it.

What you can do as a parent

  1. Talk to your child about online personas. Most people have two versions of their life: the one they present online and the life they experience the other 90 percent of the time. It’s important to talk to your tween or teen about the difference between what people project online and their day to day struggles. When we are constantly exposed to everyone’s best version of themselves, it can make it harder to be accepting of our true version of ourselves. Having direct conversations about social media being a highlight of the best moments of life and not an accurate presentation of most adolescent’s daily lives can help keep things in perspective.
  2. Talk to your child regularly about his or her experience online. If parents are active and connected to their child’s life online, they will be more plugged in and attuned to when things go awry. Ask questions about their self-image frequently: Does anyone cause you to feel bad about yourself by their comments? Does time on social media cause you to feel better or worse about yourself? These questions are very helpful for gauging how positive or negative your child’s online experience has been, and whether they have begun to internalize any negative messages they have received online.
  3. Help your child set boundaries. Since we know that as social media usage increases, self-image plummets, make sure you are helping your child set appropriate boundaries regarding how much time they spend on social media sites. Most children have a very difficult time self-regulating behavior and knowing when to stop, and need the help of an adult to enforce mandated breaks and pauses. Some devices are capable to setting timers and automatically shut down when the designated time period is used up. Other techniques, such as setting a timer in a visible place and removing the iPad when the timer goes off can be just as helpful.
  4. Model appropriate online behavior. It’s not what you say, but what you do that matters. As much as we try to tell our children about having a healthy relationship with social media, our words mean much less than our actions. Modeling appropriate boundaries with social media and talking out loud about strategies you are using to maintain your own healthy self-image are extremely effective. Hurt by a comment that someone said on your profile? Talk about it with your child and let them know ways you are dealing with the pain of rejection or judgement. Disappointed when you didn’t receive a ton of likes for the adorable picture you posted? Talk with your child about that as well. Catch yourself posting pictures of terrific vacations to stir a little envy on others? Most likely we are all guilty of it! Practice stopping yourself and talking with your kids about the importance of engaging in positive experiences for you, rather than for your online life. Modeling ways of being in the moment and soaking up every last minute of a great family vacation teaches your children more positive lessons than posting a picture online and gushing about how many likes you received. Having frequent check-ins with your child and monitoring his or her mood periodically before and after social media use can help parents be mindful of the impact on self-image. Supervision of use, boundaries, and reminders about the glamour of Instagram (as opposed to the reality) can help keep your child in a state of self-acceptance and maintain his or her positive self-image. We’ll give you several ‘likes’ for that.