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The Paradox of Social Media and Self-Esteem

With the rise of social media, today’s youths have been exposing their lives to the full view of an online audience. Connecting to the virtual world can bring a powerful sense of community acceptance and validation for them.

Social media has been lauded for facilitating self-expression, self-identity and self-discovery, as well s providing a platform for youths to discover themselves and build a community of likeminded individuals.

Social media can create unrealistic expectations and feelings of inadequacy. A recent survey conducted with 1,500 teens and young adults concluded Instagram was the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing (1). Respondents felt their bodies were not good enough and they felt pressured by the need to add filters and edit their pictures in order to present a ‘perfect’ picture.

Some users can become depressed, as the difference between one’s reality and the portrayed digital illusion may lead to one feeling like they are not living up to the “best” form of themselves.

Thus, social media seems to be creating a paradox effect: giving off the illusion of acceptance and validation, while detrimentally affecting one’s self-esteem in reality. Portraying what we want people to see and expecting ‘likes’ in return seems to promise rewarding feelings of accomplishment and connectivity.

Yet, social media has contributed to youths feeling more self-conscious and anxious (2), as it can encourage an unhealthy habit of constantly seeking validation from others.

Things shared on social media tend to be positive and celebratory, so it may appear to everyone that the user is seemingly in great relationships, taking 5-star vacations and living their dream life. With a natural human instinct to judge our success and progress by comparing against others, it is no surprise that social media can contribute to higher levels of anxiety, insecurity and depression.

It is important for parents to embrace their youth’s use of social media, but at the same time, they must help them gain self-awareness of how they are coping in this digital age.

A conversation with your child can help them understand the impact of social media on them. Here are some leading questions to get the conversation started:

  • How does it feel when someone likes or not like your posts?
  • Why does it feel important to you to stay connected to your friends online?
  • How do you feel about yourself after scrolling through your feed?

Why do you enjoy using social media platforms?