What Social Media Really Is to Your Teenage Daughter…
Recently, one of CYFS’ own clinical counselor’s, Michelle Gaede, was featured in an HOI news interview about a website where teens were submitting explicit photos of each other. After seeing her remarks, it made me think of the teenage girls in my life and how just a few years ago, I was one of those adolescent girls. If, like me, you have an adolescent girl in your life, you probably often catch them sending their friends a funny filter snapchat selfie or going “live” on Facebook. While these may seem like trivial activities, one that just pass time to you, teenage girls are immersed in their world of social media. An incoming high school freshman informed me that she has an app that checks her Twitter follower count every day, letting her know instantly if somebody unfollows her or she has a new follower. Social media can and is used in a very positive way, but this positivity may be compromised when there is a dependency issue, where teenage obsession with social media can turn sour very quickly.
One of the ways it can most strongly affect an adolescent, who is in one of the most sensitive and impressionable parts of their life, is by altering their perception of themselves. Michelle Gaede, a therapist here at CYFS, says, “There is a lot of comparison on physical appearance, and social media just highlights flaws or puts a lot of weight on beauty. Girls’ pictures get rated and passed around like trading cards.” Social media is an easy way for teens to compare themselves to their peers, finding qualities in others that they perceive themselves to lack. This can even carry into adulthood, as I have caught myself become envious of other’s lives being displayed on social media. The problem with this comparison is that social media lies. It shows the “highlight reel” of somebody’s life, their best hair days, and filter-enhanced “selfies”: an inaccurate display of reality. Along with judging themselves, social media opens up the opportunity for others to judge them as well. To put this theory to the test, I wanted to see what a typical fourteen year old had to say about social media, so I spent some time with a group of soon to be high school freshman. I found their responses to be eye opening, one answered, “making sure enough people like my picture is #1 priority, if not enough people like it I will delete it because it was obviously not interesting enough.” This reinforces the idea that others opinion of your beauty is a determinant of your own self-worth.
Just as it goes, this damage to a girl’s self-esteem can have a potential snow ball effect. As we’ve heard before, low self-esteem can cause anxiety, stress, loneliness and increased chance of depression. These prolonged feelings of inadequacy can push girls in the wrong direction. Feeling the pressure to be accepted by their peers, especially in a physical way, makes girls want to prove themselves worthy. This is how the nude photo activities come into play. Girls feel the pressure from boys to take nude photos of themselves, hoping this will provide acceptance from these boys. Sending these photos can have devastating consequences, ones that the sender did not anticipate. Girls face humiliation and regret if the photos are shared with others, which they often are. When I asked my group of incoming freshman they said they had seen this personally happen at their school, where some boys compare “collections” of photos and pass them around to their friends, without the girls knowing. You may ask, how did the girls not picture this happening? Well, Michelle Gaede says, “[In] adolescent development—girls are in the process of transitioning from children to adults—physically and emotionally. This age group tends to still think in somewhat concrete terms, which means they do not think through actions and perceive potential consequences—which explains why bad decisions are so easily made. The prefrontal cortex of an adolescent is not fully developed. This is the center in the brain responsible for planning ahead, critical thinking, decision making, etc.” Above all adolescents want to fit in and have others approval. It is especially important to teens that their friends validate their behavior. Michelle Gaede further discussed this saying, “This is an age when the opinion of peers is very important—more so than family. Adolescents want acceptance, and sometimes decisions are made that are risky in an effort to gain acceptance. “
After facing these facts, there’s one question left to answer: what can I do to ensure this is not what happens to the teenage girl in my life? The first step is not to minimize the teen’s experience. Social media is a big part of their life, with some never knowing a time without it. Be open and understanding, ensuring that they feel comfortable approaching the topic, instead of you dismissing it. After your teen understands you are ready to listen, encourage them to approach social media in a more critical way. Pose questions for them like: How does social media affect your mood? What is it about somebody liking your photo that makes you feel good? Another measure is to implement a social media break. This means everybody in the household takes a step back, which shows teens how devoted you are to their well-being. They need to see that you too are making efforts to rely less on social media and take on the challenge together (in my household I think this would be almost as hard for my parents as the children!). When it comes down to it, showing your teen their worth by displaying your confidence in their abilities, their raw, unfiltered abilities, and efforts is what they truly need. Whether you be an older sister (like me), a parent, or just somebody who understands and remembers the crazy world of adolescence, make the effort to have this discussion with your teen today.
By: Presley Sours
CYFS Guest Blogger
Presley Sours, growing up in Peoria area, was a marketing and communications intern at The Center for Youth and Family Solutions. A writer by day and reader by night, Presley is interested in the marketing field. She attends college at Eastern Illinois University where she is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in marketing, along with being a resident assistant for the university and the President of the Entrepreneurship Club.