What Social Media Does to Teen Self-Esteem (and What Parents Can Do to Help)

Thursday, March 23

Negative self-talk. Feeling less than others. Ignoring achievements. Poor body image.

These are just a few signs of low self-esteem, an issue that’s affecting teens more and more each year. Recently, a CDC report shared that nearly 3 in 5 U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, representing a nearly 60% increase and the highest level reported over the past decade.

As a parent, seeing your teenager struggle with self-esteem can be heartbreaking and concerning. Naturally, you want to do all you can to help your teen build confidence and feel good about themselves. Read on to find out a key cause of low self-esteem in teens and what SonderMind’s Chief Medical Officer, Doug Newton, MD, MPH, says you can do to help. 

Social media a key driver in low self-esteem and poor body image 

Despite teens using social media to stay connected, studies have found that social media actually makes the effects of loneliness even worse. And while getting a “like” or new follow request can boost confidence, the downsides of social media such as body-shaming, bullying, and being flooded with images of celebrities and models advertising unattainable beauty ideals, are huge contributors to low self-esteem. 

Cutting down on social media use can make a big difference. A study by the American Psychological Association showed that teens who reduced their social media use by just 50% over the course of a few weeks saw significant improvement in their body image compared with peers who maintained consistent levels of social media use. 

4 tips to help your teen cut back on social media

As a parent, you may be thinking it’s nearly impossible to get your teen to cut back on social media. However, with the right approach, you can help them take a break from it. Even if it’s just a little bit, it can make a big difference in their self-esteem and mental health. 

To help your teen reduce the time they spend posting, scrolling, and liking, consider trying out the following tips Dr. Newton shared in his Psychology Today column

1. Do activities in person

If your teen isn’t driving yet, it may seem like you’re their personal taxi service. However, getting your teen out of the house to spend time with friends and do activities in person can help them take a break from their phones. 

Consider taking them to grab ice cream or a smoothie, or ask if you can drop them off at a movie with a friend. If your teen wants to go out somewhere, try to do what you can to make it happen. The more fun experiences they have in the real world, the less time they’ll spend on their phones. 

2. Reward their accomplishments

Whether it’s a new video game or an update to their wardrobe, your teen has likely been begging you for something lately. So why not use that to entice them to cut down on social media? Decide with them on a reward they can earn if they cut back their social media usage by a certain amount of time each day. Reducing it by just an hour or two a day can make all the difference.

3. Silence notifications

Phone notifications are distracting for everyone, but especially for teens. A new “like”, comment, or follow request can cause them to open up a social app that keeps their attention for hours. Try having your teen silence notifications for a day or two to see if it cuts down on their social media use. This can help them stay more focused and connected with the real world.

4. See who wins in a family competition

More likely than not, everyone in your household could benefit from cutting down on screen time. Try having a healthy competition with your family for a week or two about who can cut down on their social media usage the most. Check the “screen time” trackers on your phones at the end of every day to see who was able to resist scrolling through Tik Tok or Instagram. Come up with the winner’s prize as a family, and try to make it an in-person event like going to a favorite restaurant or shop. 

Dr. Newton also stresses that parents have open, positive conversations with their teens about these tough subjects and to model the behaviors that they’re asking for. “I want to reiterate how important it is for us as parents and caregivers to be good examples with our own social media usage and body image,” says Dr. Newton.

Extra support is available for your and your teen

If you’re finding it challenging to address your teen’s social media use or feel that their self-esteem isn’t improving, therapy can help. Many mental health professionals meet with teens and parents together, and can help you have a healthy discussion that could make a big difference in your teen’s well-being. If you’re interested in connecting with a mental health professional, SonderMind can help.

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