How are you all? I hope you’re all doing well and staying safe.
We’ve got a very special guest post today from author Charlotte Markey. Her brand new book ‘The Body Image Book for Girls’ has come out recently and it is one of those amazing books that I think every classroom with girls from 9-15 should have! I’ve popped my copy (which was very kindly sent to me from the publishers) in my reading area and my girls are reading bits and pieces to each other and I’m loving seeing it! She’s here to talk to us all about social media and teens.
It is certainly opening conversations between them and me, and between themselves. I am all about empowerment for young women – there is so much of the world telling them (and even me as an adult female) that they should be ashamed of their bodies and what not, so more books like this are absolutely necessary in my eyes!
“It is worrying to think that most girls feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and that this can lead to serious problems including depression and eating disorders. Can some of those body image worries be eased? Body image expert and psychology professor Dr Charlotte Markey helps girls aged 9-15 to understand, accept, and appreciate their bodies. She provides all the facts on puberty, mental health, self-care, why diets are bad news, dealing with social media, and everything in-between. Girls will find answers to questions they always wanted to ask, the truth behind many body image myths, and real-life stories from girls who share their own experiences. Through this easy-to-read and beautifully illustrated guide, Dr Markey teaches girls how to nurture both mental and physical heath to improve their own body image, shows the positive impact they can have on others, and enables them to go out into the world feeling fearless!”
Teens’ Social Media Use, Body Image, and Health:
Your Questions Answered
By Dr. Charlotte Markey
In my book, The Body Image Book for Girls, I talk about social media and media more widely, with relation to how it can impact our self-esteem and body image. I have devoted a section to the topic, with the hope of encouraging girls to think about how media and social media makes them feel, to become aware of negative influences and deceptive representations online (eg. Photoshopped celebrities and fashion models), in short to help them become media literate and make choices about how they interact with this material. As adults, it can feel really daunting to know how to monitor our children’s use of the internet and how to help them use it safely and experience it positively. Here are some tips…
Should we keep teens away from social media to protect their sense of self and body images?
A recent study by Common Sense Media of over one thousand U.S teens (aged 13-17) found that 70% use social media multiple times per day. Most teens report liking social media, which makes sense; otherwise, you’d have to wonder why so many of them were using it!
With such substantial usage, it seems unlikely that we will keep children completely off social media, but we can encourage adaptive use of social media.
The Common Sense Media study asked teens about their social media use, self-presentation, and well-being. Although the majority of teens claim to present themselves realistically on social media, many admit to only sharing information and pictures that make them appear better than they think they really are. One 16-year-old participant in the study confessed, “I pretty much just post stuff that makes me look good and makes me look like my ideal self…”
While a total avoidance of social medial is likely unnecessary and impossible, adults can attend to kids’ needs to present themselves as “perfect” on social media; it rarely does anyone any good to share an inauthentic self with others.
What can adults do to help their children navigate social media?
Keep in mind the acronym FACE.
First, we can suggest that our teens Filter the media they’re exposed to. Body image researchers sometimes refer to this as “protective filtering.” In other words, social media that’s harmful should be filtered out of our teens’ online repertoire. Harmful content will not always be as obvious as, for example, contact with strange men in distant cities – although that probably doesn’t bode well, either. We want our teens to get practiced at thinking about how certain social media platforms and interactions make them feel. If it makes them feel consistently bad, we want to encourage them to protect themselves from feeling bad in the future by dropping those apps or “friends” – by filtering out the negativity.
Second, we want to strongly encourage – or possibly require – our teens to Avoid at least some social media, at least some of the time. This is taking filtering one step further, with the intent to encourage some real-world interactions as well as to evade negative online interactions. Common Sense Media’s survey suggests a possible link between media use (of all kinds) and kids’ social-emotional well-being, with very high media users rating their relationships with others (e.g., parents, friends) and their emotional health (e.g., tendency towards sadness) lower than kids who use less media. We can’t know if media use is the chicken or the egg in these analyses, as it may be that poor relationships and sadness lead kids to seek solace online. But it seems at least possible that a life lived primarily online can feel somewhat lonely. Given the strong pull of social media, it seems valuable to remind our teens that they do not need to engage with any media. They can erase an app from their phone or stop themselves from responding to others’ comments on social media. We want our teens to feel empowered to make choices concerning their media use, including choosing to avoid some social media.
Third, we want to teach our teens to be Careful of Comparisons. Social comparisons, as psychologists call them, are pervasive as we grow up because we have a hard time objectively evaluating “how we are doing.” We look to others’ appearances and accomplishments as some sort of metric or standard to live up to. But social media is hardly a source of objective information! It is easy for teens to find themselves feeling inferior when they compare themselves to the online “highlight reel” of others’ lives. We want to encourage our teens to replace feelings of inferiority with a focus on their strengths and to teach them that others’ successes do not mean they are failing; we all have different areas in which we excel.
Fourth, Evaluate what your teens are seeing on social media and encourage them to do the same. The images available online can be particularly pernicious in that they are rarely accurate representations of reality. The majority of online images are filtered, edited, or altered in some way as to present an idealized representation of a person’s appearance or experience. We need our teens to learn to reflexively respond to what they see as “fake” so that they don’t internalize impossible standards for how they should look or what they should be doing.
Is social media ever a positive developmental influence?
Focusing too much on the potential negative consequences of social media use may result in adults appearing very “out of touch” among teens. However, talking about social media with our tweens and teens and encouraging media literacy – filtering, avoiding, being careful of comparisons, and evaluating – is a step towards reducing any potential pitfalls of social media use and raising children who can take the “reality” presented online with a grain of salt.
Parents and educators should also feel encouraged by recent research suggesting that social media experiences may be positive, depending on who it is teens are connecting with online. Connecting with family may be more positive than connecting with peers while contact with peers may encourage more comparisons than contact with family members, for example. And engagement with body positive posts on social media (a.k.a., #BoPo) may contribute to improvements in viewers’ body satisfaction. There is a tremendous amount that young people can learn on social media about the world around them. Eliminating social media use may not be a realistic goal, but helping teens to have healthy online interactions is.
Dr Charlotte Markey is the author of The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless, out now (Cambridge University Press, £9.99).
A massive thank you to Charlotte for taking time to put together this blog post! I can’t wait to hear everyone rave about this book!