The Digital Dilemma: Self-esteem and Social Media

Alexis Younes
November 11, 2023
May 9, 2024
min read

When you put the words “self-esteem” and “social media” together in a sentence, more often than not there is a negative connotation added to it. Why is that? Is it widely known that individual’s truly struggle with their overall sense of self due to what they see scrolling on their phone? We are all guilty of looking at photos and asking ourselves why we don’t look like that Instagram model or dance well enough to make money on TikTok like the others do. There is so much social comparison and believing that what we see with our own eyes is reality, when in actuality, it’s not. It’s hard for us to decipher what is real and what isn’t because what we see must be true, right? 

As mentioned in an earlier blog post in this series, I had an interesting upbringing where social media was just starting to come around as I was entering middle school. My childhood wasn’t tainted by social comparison or worrying about why I didn’t look like these girls I saw online. I like to think that was back when my mind was sound and I didn’t worry nearly as much. Now middle school is already such an awkward stage of our life with pubertal and hormonal changes, then adding social media into the mix to really liven up the party. Kids are starting to have access to social media more and more today, some with no regulations and others with parental supervision. There are many factors that play into a teen’s self-esteem, with social media being a huge contributor. Before we get into all the different ways social media can impact your teen’s lives, let’s define the difference between self-esteem, confidence, and self-efficacy.

Self-esteem - how we see and value ourselves

Confidence - believing and trusting that you are capable of your abilities, feeling secure

Self-efficacy - your own personal belief on how well you feel you can complete a task or learn a skill

These three terms are used interchangeably, although they have slightly different definitions. Some people feel that the more they do, the better they feel, meaning, an increase in self-efficacy means an increase in self-esteem and confidence. 

So how do you know if you have low self-esteem? 
  • Feeling unsure or insecure with yourself
  • Comparing yourself to others decreases your mood and sense of self
  • Overanalyze what you say or do
  • Become a chameleon to try to fit in
  • Identity confusion
  • People pleasing tendencies 
  • Porous boundaries
  • Difficulty speaking up for yourself

Have you noticed any of these characteristics in your teen? It’s common to experience low self-esteem, especially around this developmental stage. Our goal is to help them increase their self-esteem, confidence, and worth. 

So, how will I know if my teen has high self-esteem?
  • Confident 
  • Continues to want to improve themselves
  • Assertive communication - speaking up for themselves and their needs
  • Sets healthy boundaries
  • Positive self talk
  • Accepts their imperfections
  • Emotional resilience

Below are several factors that can have a negative impact on a teen’s self-esteem utilizing social media:

  • Self comparison: I believe the biggest proponent to having low self-esteem comes from comparing ourselves to others we see online. Teens are especially vulnerable as the amount of time they use on social media and their need to “fit in” is dire. During this developmental stage, teens are ultimately forming their identity or ending up in identity confusion. With the constant comparison, this can lead many teens into an identity crisis as they aren’t sure who they are. The amount of individuals using social media sites is worldwide, which means teen’s have access to that much content and images for them to sit and think about why they don’t look like that gym influencer or live a lavish lifestyle like that person in Australia. 
  • Body Image: All teens struggle at some level with their body image at some point in their lives, if you haven’t, congratulations! You are amongst the few out there. But if you have, just know it is totally normal. What may contribute to this is not only society’s need for women to be a size 2 with a big bust and big butt, or just petite all around which is what content many teen girls see online. This can lead to eating disorders to fit into this mold they feel they need to be in to be “accepted” or “wanted” by others. This can also lead to negative behaviors such as working out excessively, getting surgeries done, getting botox, the list goes on. 
  • Fomo (fear of missing out): There is nothing worse than finding out you were not invited to that thing with your so-called “friends”. Seeing pictures posted online of the good time they had at their sleepover will definitely have you contemplating life. No one likes to be left out of things and seeing it blasted online may make your teen question if their friends are actually their friend, if people don’t like them, and begin to question themselves and what they offer.
  • Social Validation: Teen’s may obsess over how many likes, comments, or followers they receive. They may begin to correlate the higher those numbers, the higher their self-esteem may get, when in reality, it’s only further encouraging external validation rather than internal. When they don’t get a certain amount of likes or comments they hoped for, it may dampen their sense of self which is what we don’t want to happen! There has to be an even balance between external and internal validation.
  • Social Isolation: As mentioned in the blog post correlating depression and social media, this can lead a teen to isolate themselves from in person interactions. They may feel more comfortable talking to others behind a screen rather than in person. The amount of teens I’ve personally seen reported having higher social anxiety after the COVID-19 pandemic was quite astonishing. Social media usage and hiding behind a phone may make one feel more comfortable, but diminishes their in person social skills which are vital to having meaningful relationships.
  • Lack of Authenticity: In teen’s developmental stage of formulating their identity, they are also struggling to conform or fit into the crowd around them to seem or appear “normal”. With this, they lose the genuineness and authentic parts of themselves by molding into who they think they need to be in order to feel accepted. Seeing images online can fit into this narrative, “if only I had long blonde hair and a bunch of money to go on trips or wear the best clothes, maybe others will think I’m cool.” The use of filters, too, plays a huge part in this as well. The filters have gotten so good, we can’t tell sometimes if that’s what they look like or if their phone is helping them out. It takes away from their own beauty and likeness, creating a distorted sense of self and reality. In this world, we need more authentic and creative individuals, not copy and pastes of others.
  • Negative feedback: This is a tough one. Many of us don’t take criticism very well depending on past experiences and how it is received. With a constant fear of not fitting in or being “normal”, teens can take a big hit by getting negative feedback. A more recent term that’s come out of social media use and criticism is a fear that most people have when posting online, the fear of getting ‘canceled’. Content can go viral overnight, either for good reasons or bad. This feedback can be damaging to one’s reputation and self-esteem, especially for those who have not handled criticism well and do not have emotional resilience to these types of feedback. 

This is not an extensive list of items that can affect one’s self-esteem. As a parent, please be on the lookout for any changes in your teen. Don’t blame it on “puberty” or it being a “phase”. Your teen could really be struggling and you don’t want to minimize what they are going through. Be a safe place for them to be honest about these things. If they struggle to open up to you but need someone to talk to, suggest getting them into therapy (we are not all scary, I promise). They don’t have to go through this alone, so don’t let them.

Take The First Step

Call or Text for a complimentary 15-minute consultation!
Let us help you plant the seeds of change and nurture them until you, and those you love, bloom in your full potential.

By clicking Sign Up you're confirming that you agree with our Terms and Conditions.
Thank you!
You should get a confirmation email shortly!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Please check you've filled it in correctly.