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Social Networks and Body Image During Adolescence

April 21, 2020

An increasing number of studies are addressing the issue of a correlation between the time spent on social networks and the level of anxiety and depression in today’s youth. Do you know why?

The Reality of Social Networks

The truth is that being exposed to social media means seeing content that’s not necessarily representative of real life. Who publishes their failures? Who really addresses their blunders? Who shows the more questionable parts of their life, of their personality? Very few people. And when it happens, it’s in a spirit of awarenessfor instance, I’m thinking of campaigns by large companies to raise funds, during which public figures reveal a darker side of their lives.

Otherwise, on a daily basis we see photos of young pretty women and young handsome men, healthy and smiling, surrounded by friends, traveling, at a stylish party, and so forth.

Are we always looking our finest? Or traveling? Or surrounded by friends? Of course not.

Adolescence: A Sensitive Time

As adults, if we somehow manage to make sense of things—and event then—and we’re still not immune to the alarming statistics linking online time and social comparison, it’s even harder for teens.

Adolescents are at a sensitive stage in their development. This is time of self-discovery, when they distance themselves from their family and grow closer to their circle of friends. They seek to please and be part of a friend group while developing their individually. Phew, quite the challenge! Add raging hormones, body changes and the desire for independence, and you can sometimes get an explosive result.

 (Psst! Did you know that only 10% of adolescents actually experience a major crisis? That being said, the transition from childhood to adolescence is full of unknowns and turbulence, major crisis or not.)

Building Self-Esteem

One of the three pillars on which teens build their self-esteem is physical appearance. They compare themselves to others regarding every aspect of their development, including (of course) physical appearance. Am I thin enough? Beautiful enough? Muscular enough? Strong enough? What should I do with my growing hair? Do I wear makeup or not? How do I dress to be trendy? Am I pale enough? Tanned enough? Do I look like the idols I follow on social networks? Should I get false eyelashes? And false nails?

Whatever type of teenager you have, every day (several times a day) they are exposed to slim, muscular bodies, with curves “in all the right places”. They believe, wrongly, they MUST look like the people in these photoshopped pictures, who have been transformed thanks to advantageous filters and, in some cases, cosmetic surgery.

The pictures our teens are exposed to don’t reflect reality by a long shot, and alter their self-image by constantly comparing themselves negatively to the faces and bodies they see all day long.

This contributes to the need to attain a body image that is just not realistic, causing frustration, disappointment and permanent dissatisfaction for some, thus damaging their self-esteem.

Educate Your Teen

First, it’s important to limit social media screen time. You can ask your teen for access to their networks (“friend” them) to follow their activity on their various platforms and supervise what they post... as well who they follow.

You can also watch videos and read articles with your teenager that address the alteration of faces and bodies on social networks (I’m thinking… perhaps a video explaining the Photoshop process from A to Z for advertising purposes, which you can easily find on sites such as YouTube). Learning about this together creates an opportunity for an honest and open discussion on this subject.

Remember that compliments matter, its important to praise adolescents for who they are as individuals: their qualities, their achievements, their efforts ... and not only their physical appearance (even if we think they look amazing!). This helps them build a self-image based on WHO THEY ARE as a whole, and not based on a single aspect as subjective as beauty.

Finally, we need to question our own relationship with social media and the images we see, as well as the thoughts and words we express about our physical appearance. Let's not forget young people learn by example!

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