Selfies, self-esteem & social media: how to help your teenager

Selfies, self-esteem & social media: How to help your teenagers survive.

The subject of social media is entirely unavoidable for parents. It is ubiquitous, and its use is peculiar to the current generation of tweens and teens.

Any parent over the age of 20 simply didn’t have Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, or even a smart phone, to contend with while they were at school, navigating their teenage years.

Now, it is impossible to escape. Even for adults.

The omnipresence of social media and our growing dependence on our phones, is hardly a non-issue for anyone past their teenage years.

How many of us, over the age of 20, haven’t lamented our own mindless use of our phones? Or our partner’s?

Or, the inevitable “compare and despair” cycle that social media lends itself to?

Why is everyone else having more fun than we are? Looking better? Being healthier? Being inited out more often? Why are everyone else’s kids happier?

Step onto any bus or train during peak hour and it is clear that the collective obsession with our devices is not an affliction only suffered by teenagers.

But there is a crucial difference. As adults we are not in the throes of our formative, vulnerable, years.

School has always been a social minefield but social media can – and does – exacerbate that. In practical terms, physically leaving school isn’t actually an escape because students are connected beyond the school gate. Around the clock.

The Suncorp Australian Youth and Confidence Research Report reveals that 36% of teenage girls, aged between 13 and 18 years, believe the key to achieving self confidence is receiving social media likes.

In better news, 75% of those teenage girls believe the key to achieving self confidence is having supportive friends and family.

Three in four parents believe social media is negatively impacting their teens’ self-esteem.

How do we ensure social media doesn’t destroy the self-esteem of our children?

Author, public speaker and #TeamGirls Ambassador Bec Sparrow says the starting point is simple.

“All the research tells us that the big driver of happiness is the “in person friendships” –the real life connections we develop when we are with our friends. When we spill our guts and be ourselves,” she says.  “There is nothing wrong with online friends but we need to educate teenagers about working out the role those relationships play.”

She says an online community is great as a cheer squad and for specific advice.

“It costs people nothing to hit like when you share good news – that you just got into the play or got into the team you wanted,” Sparrow says. “Online is also a great hive mind. Which movie should I see? Should I write my assignment on X or Y?”

Beyond that, she says its value and capacity for meaningful relationships is limited.

“We need to ensure young people don’t put all their eggs into the social media basket with friends. They need to nurture the ‘in person’ moments because nothing will beat the times they sit around with their friends, watching a movie, chatting.”

Sparrow has some advice for teens and parents alike:

“There is nothing wrong with social media but it can white ant your life. If you don’t put boundaries around it and be smart about becoming its master, it will eat away at the things that bring you true happiness,” Sparrow says.  “You have to walk the talk which  is hard for all of us. Have rules – about when and how scial media and phones are used. If it means turning off the home wifi at 9pm every night, and implementing tech-free days, so be it.”  

Building confidence

Sparrow’s passion for empowering young Australians is the reason she didn’t think twice about joining Suncorp’s #TeamGirls collaboration with Netball Australia and ReachOut.

It is a national initiative designed to help young Australians be confident and positive role models for each other and it kicked off this month.

It focuses on three core pillars which are key to improving self-confidence: goal setting, sports participation and positive social behaviours.

Suncorp Chief Customer Experience Officer Mark Reinke says they want to help parents address the key elements linked to instilling and improving confidence in teenagers.

“Confidence is key to positive wellbeing, can help us achieve our life goals and get us to where we want to be,” Reinke says. “Through our research we identified that goal setting, sports participation and positive social behaviours are key to improving self confidence, and that’s why they are our #TeamGirls pillars.”

Developing Resilience

ReachOut CEO Jono Nicholas says any initiative aimed to developing the resilience of young Australians is critical.

“Sadly we know that one in four young people experience a mental health difficulty, so it’s critical we do everything we can to improve young people’s mental health,” he says. “The teenage years are a major time of transition so it is an important time to intervene.”

Given the reach of Netball #TeamGirls has the potential to tap into a large audience of parents and young women.

“Doing it through sport offers a great opportunity to reinforce young women’s relationships with each other, build confidence in their bodies and remind them to appreciate what their body can do, not just how it looks,” Nichols says.

The challenge for “digital natives” and their parents is significant. The more positive resources, wisdom and advice parents and teens can tap into, the better.  Bec Sparrow said it is overwhelming, but stepping up is the only option.

“Ultimately it is up to us to help equip this generation.”

If your child, or anyone you know is having issues with self-esteem, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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