Talking Points: Promoting Positive Self-Esteem Online
Being online is now an integral part of teenage life, and the opportunities the internet offers provides young people with many positive benefits. However, just like in the offline world, life online also comes with its share of ups and downs.
Young people place a lot of value in the interactions they have and the content that they come across in the online spaces they spend time in. The likes, comments, and followers they receive, and the lifestyle ideals that are presented to them can all help to make or break their mood or self-esteem. Parents and carers can support teenagers by encouraging them to gain perspective and an understanding of how people present themselves online.
Why is the online world so important to young people?
As in the offline world, being online provides young people with a platform for self-expression, building relationships, and learning about things that they are interested in. Teenagers want to ‘fit in’ online, and look to it as a place to get social validation – getting a ‘Like’ or comment on your Tik Tok video from someone you admire in school could feel just like getting that thumbs up from them in real life.
Unfortunately, it can also be a place which provides unreasonable benchmarks for teenagers to compare themselves to. For some, their level of confidence or self-esteem can become connected to a numbers game of ‘like and comments’, or by unfairly comparing their lives to the idealistic ‘norms’ they are presented with when they go online. These days, unrealistic standards are set much closer to home, not just by celebrities, models, or influencers but also by their peers. Many young people carefully curate their online lives, showing only the best and most enviable moments, which are often further enhanced by filters and editing apps.
Navigating this issue is often further complicated by the online/social media providers themselves, who’s algorithms determine what content is displayed on their newsfeeds.
An important step in promoting positive online self-esteem within your child is to engage in an ongoing conversation with them.
- How do you feel about the amount of likes or interactions your online posts receive?
Many teens are very conscious of the image they project when they post content, and even take into account the timing of when they post it in order to maximise the potential number of likes that the post could get. This can be a good opportunity to encourage them to take the time to consider what impact this may be having on them, and also to remind them that the number of likes they get is not a realistic barometer of their value as a person. Instead encourage them to focus on the positive friendships that they do have.
- Have you ever deleted a post because it didn’t get enough likes? It’s not uncommon for teenagers to delete a post on social media if it doesn’t get enough likes. Explore why they felt motivated to delete a post to get a better understanding of how they want to present themselves online and any pressure they may be feeling.
- Is how you see people on the internet and social media the same as how you would see them in real life?
Encourage them to see the full picture – people usually post a heavily edited version of their lives online, and while your child may be aware of this to some extent, it is a good idea to explore how this can lead to creating unrealistic expectations. Have a chat with them about how a snapshot in time is not a full reflection of reality and so is not a reliable benchmark for success.
- Why might people want to present themselves in a certain way when they are online?
Tease out what might influence people to present themselves in a way – what may be the vested interest? For example, looking at a celebrity or influencer, is the lifestyle or image they portray influenced by advertising or marketing? Encourage your child to think critically about the content that is posted by people online, including by other young people.
- What content makes you feel upset or unhappy?
Talk to your child about the people or content that they like to follow, and if there are themes or trends that upset them suggest that they unfollow or hide these posts. It can be a good way to protect them from comparing themselves to others.
- Can you tell me about the content or people online make you happy
Discuss following people who share positive content and encourage them to have more of this in their newsfeed.
- What offline activities do you like to do?
Encourage your child to take an occasional break from being online, and to make time for doing activities that they like. Spending time with friends or exercise are great for relieving stress and boosting your mood.