Very often the guests that I have on my podcast have far more to say than we give them time for in one hour. Because of this, I like to periodically post a guest blog of theirs giving them the opportunity to talk in more detail on a specific topic.
Today, I am posting an article that Erica Komisar wrote that was published in The Institute for Family Studies. Erica is the author of Chicken Little The Sky isn't Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in The New Age of Anxiety and Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First 3 Years Matters.
Please note - I choose guests that are experts in their field and there may be differences in our beliefs and approach to certain matters.
In September, the Wall Street Journal reported on internal Facebook research findings indicating that social media is particularly hard on the mental health of teenage girls. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” read one slide from an internal meeting. The WSJ also reported on another slide that read: “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” The WSJ expose on Facebook and Instragram has now resulted in two congressional hearings on the negative effects of social media on children, including one held on Capitol Hill just yesterday.
As a therapist, it is not news to me that social media dampens the self-esteem and body image of teenagers, although it helps to have empirical evidence to prove what we have known for years. We can only hope that Facebook and Instagram integrate these findings into making their platforms less damaging to children’s self-image. However, social media is here to stay. What then, can parents do to inoculate their children from the self-esteem draining effects?
Ideally, the best thing that a parent can do for their child is to help them cultivate emotional security and a foundation of healthy self-esteem before they reach adolescence. This means being physically and emotionally present from birth through adolescence, modeling good self-esteem and body image for them, being aware of their environmental, social, and emotional challenges, de-emphasizing achievement and emphasizing connection, and getting help for them early rather than later in their development.
It is also critical to monitor for any signs of body image issues that may arise during adolescence. I have heard some parents say things along the lines of: “Kids will outgrow their self-critical and self-disparaging or harsh feelings about themselves or their bodies.” This is an act of denial; parents should never ignore any early indications that their children may have an eating disorder or body distortion, no matter how subtle the signs. Self-acceptance and self-love are not a given but the result of the belief that we are imperfect but loveable, and it is the responsibility of parents to do their best to instill this belief in their children. By doing so from an early age, children, especially teenage girls, will have less trouble with social media inspired body-image issues.