Social Media and Teen Self Esteem

We live in a culture constantly bombarded by images and messages from media about beauty. Teenagers are incredibly self-conscious and naturally compare themselves to others. So what happens when the people they are comparing themselves to on social media are filtered and their polished lives curated and nothing like reality? And how does social media affect a teenager’s self-esteem during this time of hormonal and bodily changes?


First let’s look at the facts

  • Teens and preteens are among the highest consumers of social media.
  • Officially you must be 13 years old to join the major social media platforms.
  • A survey found 97% of 13–17-year-olds use a social media platform such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.1
  • On average we check our smartphones between 85 and 101 times a day.2
  • Reports state that teenagers spend over 7 hours a day on their screens, this does not include time spent on schoolwork or homework.3
  • Females use image based social media platforms more than males.
  • As children emerge into late childhood and early adolescence parental approval continues to affect self esteem but is not as influential as peer approval.4
  • Positive reinforcement (likes) on social media releases dopamine, the chemical in the brain that makes us happy.
  • Young women regard their media presence as more important than their real-life presence.

The Positives of Social Media

  • The ability to socialise and communicate online with family, friends and peers across different geographical and time zones.
  • Feeling more connected to, and supported by, a larger social network. This is especially beneficial to those experiencing exclusion, with disabilities or chronic illnesses.
  • Self expression- sharing who you are, your feelings, thoughts, or ideas, especially in writing, art, music, or dance.
  • Exposure to current events becoming knowledgeable on the developments in local, national and world affairs.
  • Learning about a variety of subjects empowers individuals though education.
  • Meaningful connections online can help teenagers avoid depression.
  • A powerful platform to motivate people to action and make social change.
  • If you are creative, social media is one of the best platforms to share your work.
  • Social media fosters empathy – by sharing our experiences, both good and bad, we’re able to empathise with each other.
  • Helps you find common ground and others that share the same interests, likes and hobbies.
  • A great source of entertainment, making you laugh out loud. There is an abundance of feel-good belly laughing GIFs, memes, quotes, pictures and videos online with the sole purpose of making us laugh.

The Negatives of Social Media

  • Online bullying, trolling and harassment is not properly policed and has a negative impact on self-esteem.
  • Teenagers don’t always understand the impact their words and actions have on others.
  • Comparisons made to unrealistic and carefully curated users’ lives can make users feel inferior or inadequate.
  • Filters alter and beautify features, introducing teens to unrealistic beauty and negatively impacting the way they view themselves.
  • Seeking approval and external validation from others hinders a secure sense of self from developing.
  • Having social media at their fingertips can be a massive distraction from schoolwork, homework, real life friendships and family.
  • We don’t allow ourselves to be, or feel, bored so we are rarely alone with our thoughts-this is pivotal for our brain development.
  • FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), social anxiety and upward comparison are all exaggerated on social media.
  • Social media can seriously magnify mental health issues.
  • Studies have shown social media use can disrupt sleep. Sleep is crucial for the developing adolescent brain. Lack of sleep is associated with lower mood and depression.
  • High levels of social media use have been linked to depression or anxiety symptoms.
  • It is easier for kids to receive and send inappropriate sexual content without parents’ knowledge through social media messaging than by text. It is also much easier for predators to reach them.

What can we do as parents?

  • Don’t avoid approaching the subject of social media with your children. Keep the lines of communication open between you. They are much more likely to share worries and concerns with you if they feel they can talk to you about it.
  • Making sure social media is safe is of paramount importance. Check the security settings of the apps your child uses.
  • Monitor your child’s social media accounts. Let your teenager know you will be regularly checking their accounts and make sure you do.
  • Highlight and discuss all the amazing things human bodies can do and what is important is how healthy it is, not how it looks.
  • Self-esteem comes from strong relationships and achieving goals so focus on these with your teenager.
  • Build your child’s self-esteem as early as you can. Tell them how kind, caring, clever and lovable they are. The more they hear it, the more they believe it.
  • Focus on your child’s internal strengths instead of reinforcing society’s focus on outer beauty and possessions.
  • Promote the idea that every person in your family is exactly how they should be – unique and capable.
  • Encourage teenagers to use their free time to do activities that engage their brains, like reading a book or completing a puzzle.
  • Promote body positivity and embrace authenticity and diversity. Be conscious of how you talk about your own body, and other people’s, especially in front of children.
  • Encourage teenagers to take a break from, or reduce time on, social media.
  • Have a family digital downtime. It is hypocritical to ask your teenagers to take a break from their smartphones and social media when their parents are using theirs in front of them.
  • Keep bedrooms social media free.
  • Agree rules of social media engagement for example, use between what times, engaging with strangers etc.
  • Lack of exercise is a contributing factor to low self-esteem in both males and females. Encourage teens to exercise regularly or, better still, strengthen your relationship with your teen by exercising with them. Find out more about XCELERATE GYMS and X-Nation.
  • Encourage face to face contact with friends.
  • Ask your teenager to think critically about who they follow and how their posts make them feel about themselves. Unfollow those that make them feel negatively about themselves and suggest adding nature and travel into their feeds too.
  • Arm teens with the knowledge and tools to approach social media in a way that won’t negatively impact their self-esteem. Discuss the difference between what’s posted on social media and reality.
  • Teach and show teenagers that social media posts are edited and curated to generate more likes and shares.


Danae Mercer @danaemercer

Karina Irby @karinairby

Sara Puhto @saggysara


  1. Pew Research Centre 2018
  2. Glamour
  3. Robb 2019
  4. Erol 2011