Internet and Teen Self Esteem: What Parents can do to Help

Am I Ugly? Pretty? Fat?— While these questions of uncertainty are obvious signs of low self-esteem, it's not really abnormal for young girls to wonder to themselves every now and then about their physical appearance, especially when they're coming-of-age. But more recently young girls are turning to a more public way of getting validation of their looks that can ultimately disintegrate a girl's self-esteem even further: the internet.


Headlines show that a growing number of tweens and teens are using websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in order to ask "friends “or even worse— complete strangers— about their level of attractiveness. They are displaying their insecurities online in the hopes that someone will tell them that they're perfect the way that they are. Some bluntly broadcast questions like "Am I pretty? Am I ugly? I can take it you can tell me"; while others choose to post photos (some even with suggestive poses) in order to encourage a flow of steady compliments.

While studies have already proven that Facebook in particular is a playground for the vain and those who suffer with low self- esteem, these kind of sites can ruin a person's self-esteem even further. How so? People are cruel—sometimes even more cruel that necessary because they can have the power of hiding behind a computer and have the luxury of never being confronted in real life. That said, some feel like they can say anything and instead of giving compliments, some people tend to give negative feedback and harsh criticism that can ultimately destroy an already fragile individual. Take these snarky comments that were posted after an 80 pound, 12-year-old girl who was more than likely seeking affirmation that she was in fact thin and pretty created a video inviting anyone to state whether they thought she was ugly or not:

 "You're pretty…ugly!"

 "UR ugly as sh**"

· "Ugly on the inside, because you're an attention wh**e"

· "No you are not ugly but you are a very, very dumb girl!!! You're incredibl[y] stupid"

Mind you, the young girl asking strangers to comment on her looks explicitly says in the introduction of the video "I think I'm ugly and fat"—this comment in itself is an invitation for people to agree with her own sentiments. The video, which was created in December of 2010, has received more than 4 million views. The video may be more than a year old but there are tons of videos just like it floating in cyberspace that are created all the time—and they are not only exclusively made my females either. There are a few young boys who use the internet to seek affirmation as well.

All of the girls and boys who use social media as an esteem-booster are obviously are perfect just as they are. But often times they forget. It's a parent's responsibility to raise their child in a way that they don’t feel the need to seek public affirmation on the Web. After all, if not corrected, low self-esteem can lead to much serious conditions such as eating disorders, depression or sometimes sadly, suicide. That said, below are some tips that a parent can take to slowly start building their child's self-esteem.


Reassure Your Child of His/Her Beauty

One of the main reasons that your child may not think he or she is attractive is because they don't get enough compliments from the person that is supposed to love him or her unconditionally—the parents. Your child may grow up thinking, "If my own parents don’t think I'm pretty then who else will?" Tell your child that he or she is beautiful as often as you can—especially if your child is a tween and just getting in touch with his or her identity. At this time your child may go through a variety of "changes" on the journey of self-discovery—hair color changes, wardrobe changes, etc. While some of the changes might be a bit more drastic than others, try to refrain from telling your child, "I think it looks ugly" or "You looked better before." Assure your child that he or she is beautiful inside and out and let your child find his or her own way.

Never Pick on Yourself Around Your Child

There may come a time where you, the parent, have some doubts about your own physical appearance—maybe you gained some weight and don’t quite like how you're pants are fitting. Whatever you're unhappy about, do your absolute best not to judge yourself in front of your child. Children pick up more than you may think, and if your child sees you downsizing yourself he or she will most likely do it too and find things to nick pick about themselves. Instead, try to be as confident as you can in front of your child and talk about the features that you love about yourself, even if it's something simple like your eyelashes, nose or smile.

Give Personal Stories of Own Struggles with Self Esteem

Everyone has suffered from low self-esteem issues every now and then. Be open and share these stories with your child while also including how you overcame your insecurities. This is a great way to encourage an open and honest conversation with your child so that he or she can tell you what's really going on in their lives. *Note: You want your conversations to be as natural as possible. Don’t lead with, "I read an article that said a growing number of teens are posting insecure YouTube videos. Are you one of them?" Your child will just shut down.

Get Involved with Your Child's Internet Activity

Lastly, but most importantly you need to get involved and monitor your child's internet activity. Don't think because there is only one computer in the family room that your child is doing nothing wrong—he or she can use a computer elsewhere, such as their friend's house. However, having a computer that is in an area where you can glance and check on your child's activity is a start. Go a step further by "friending" your child on Facebook so you know what kind of statuses and photos your child is posting. But don't be na├»ve about the way Facebook works either—know that your child can block you from seeing certain albums and statuses. Follow your child on Twitter as well as on YouTube so you can monitor their activity there as well. And don't forget about Google—search for your child's name every so often to ensure that their privacy isn't being jeopardized in any way—no public images, videos, etc.

*****

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes on education. She can be reached at blauren99 @gmail.com.

20 comments:

  1. Those videos just break my heart. Its mind boggling the number of "Do I look ugly" videos on there of both girls and boys.

    There is no doubt that facebook, etc are a hub for attention seeking behaviors which can have some really painful results on ones self-esteem. These pointers on how teens can be helped are good starting points.

    I do think that it is important for parents to sit and talk about the influence of media and others' opinion on one's self esteem. Its also important to inculcate a sense of self-esteem that is beyond just looks as well. So its not just "you looked better before" but also talking about what these changes mean to ones sense of self.

    Great topic! and wonderful links as well :-)

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  2. I KNOW!!! The number of girls who do these things are just going up the scale! Even I really don't get it ..why do they do this? But honestly,the answer is parents .It is parents who should address this issue first! Coz parents are the ones who provide an emotional backbone to the fruitful growth of a child!! If they don't then who will ?

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  3. You know Subho,kids don't like their parents to befriend them on facebook...if you insist, they will think you want to snoop on them,you don't have confidence in them etc etc...this whole matter of seeking reassurance form the internet is a reflection of our society's obsession with exteriors...so many ads about fair skin,beautiful hair,smooth heels & what not....it is mind-boggling...it is worth all parents' while to instill in their kids an appreciation of values & character.

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  4. Very important information.

    By the way I'm doing a study on the effect of internet addiction on students' peer relationships. In case you come across any relevant information I shall be highly obliged to have it...

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  5. @Between Life's Doings - We are dealing with a huge emotional void out here, since the kids that we are seeing indulging in this kind of behavior are obviously lacking the parental presence that would make them feel confident of themselves by themselves. Perhaps some part of it is due to double income families, with little parenting time left over, with growing up in affluence and not realizing that things cannot replace people, that a social network is Pramila Aunty and Mohan Uncle and Funny Didu in the same room together (oh my God!) and not anonymous commenters on FB or Youtube. This is a subject that has all my buttons pressed, which is perhaps why I was glad to host Lauren's post.

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  6. @Jen - The kids of today are the parents of tomorrow. I was always told that the hand you are dealt with is the hand you have to play. You and I know from our life experiences that that need not be true. Be the change that you want to see, the future is brighter than you can imagine.

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  7. @Indu - One of my favorite TV shows is Castle, I don't know if you have seen it, but in it, there is a father of a teenage daughter and the show devotes a good amount of space to the father-daughter dynamics. Now in its fourth season, a lot of the parenting lessons that were introduced in earlier seasons are making sense with the passage of time. If children can be helped to understand that a parent friending them on social networks is not to keep them away from doing what they want, but to keep others away from them, it makes sense. Of course, one needs to have a relationship of trust in that friending need not be synonymous with snooping on your kids activity. Today, kids as young as six or seven have their own blogs, forget about FB and YT pages and channels. I don't think it is safe to leave them to their own judgement at such a young age. Once again, trust, balance, and openness are essential.

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  8. @matheikal - Thanks a lot for your time and comment, Sir. I do hope this will be of some help, it is about internet addiction in general, not young people specifically. It is something I wrote on another blog of mine.

    http://secretchords.blogspot.in/2011/08/what-is-internet-addiction.html

    Will keep you in mind if I find something, and I hope you will share your findings on the internet and peer relationship connection on your blog.

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  9. Wow! It is scary..sometimes harsh words can break an adult, so I can only imagine what the twelve year old must be going through..It is a dog eat dog world outside!

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  10. I had no idea so many insecurities assailed the young today. I am sure these are trying times for parents and kids alike. With the explosion of social media, I am sure there is a constant pressure to get more 'likes' or being admired. I am not a parent, but I am sure parents reaffirming how proud they are of their kids will go a long way in raising that self esteem.

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  11. Not many people realize the harmful effects social media sites can have on children!

    Great guest post and some great ways to increase a child's self-esteem!

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  12. its easy for us to blame the media/ west etc but the real screw up happens at home

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  13. This is something I have been noticing for quite some time now.A great and timely post,all parents should read this.
    Sharing this in twitter..

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  14. debajyoti4:10 AM

    very nice write up. completely agree with it except the last bit - 'monitoring their activities', this can lead to serious repercussions.

    and there is an abundance of people on virtual world who can be extremely rude and they derive some kind of pleasure by making derogatory remarks about someone's physical appearance. that's just pathetic.

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  15. Facebook has been identified by most as a harbinger of those who want to exploit young teenagers. Apart from sexual exploitation even dope sellers are targeting kids who seem to have low self esteem issues. A parent should take the middle path neither be very indulgent nor be extremely strict.

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  16. A thought provoking and important post... low self esteem and its roots in doubts about ones own physical appearance is a very real issue. Social networking sites perhaps have made it obvious... may be it has given voice to that suffocating feeling of not being physically appealing... Girls have always been under a pressure to look good.More recently I see that pressure cloud to include boys also.. as long as we will attach fair smooth skin.. beautiful hair .. to our happiness and acceptibilty I guess this issue would always be there. Your take on how parents can help is apt. I am glad you wrote on the subject.

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  17. Well written! I've also been digging on how the Virtual world is impacting one's life. Check this one out - http://www.virteacon.com/2012/03/modern-lifestyle-good-bad-and-ugly.html

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  18. Well written! I've also been digging on how the Virtual world is impacting one's life. Check this one out - http://www.virteacon.com/2012/03/modern-lifestyle-good-bad-and-ugly.html

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  19. You couldn't have put this better... it is obvious that people who post show-off statuses and pics of themselves in alluring poses are doing it for the attention and compliments, and this points to a deeper-rooted insecurity... Do read my very similar post of face-bragging *HERE*

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