Girls, social media and self-esteem

The Standard February 3, 2022

In a January 31, 2021 Forbes article on teenage girls and self-esteem, Alice Broster writes, “The Prince’s Trust and the Education Policy Institute used data from the Millennium Cohort Study. Over a two-year period, they looked at the wellbeing of an estimated 5,000 young people who were born around 2000. Researchers spoke to the young people about their overall wellness and mental health when they were 11, 14, and 17. They found that there was a distinct drop in girl’s self-esteem and sense of self between the ages of 11 and 14. At 11, 15% said they felt unhappy about their appearance. However, by the time they were 14, 29% said they weren’t happy.

Further research has linked much higher rates of depression in girls to longer time spent on social media and online bullying. A team from University College London used the same data set as the Prince’s Trust and the Education Policy Institute and found that three-quarters of girls, aged 14, who suffer from low moods and depression also are unhappy with how they look and get less than seven hours sleep per night. Almost 40% of girls who spend more than five hours a day on social media show symptoms of depression.

Girl’s and boy’s mental wellness was pretty similar through primary school and it wasn’t until 14 that there started to be marked differences.” “To be clear, this study does not prove causation, but the correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is one that should sound alarm bells. Researchers used population-based data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study on over 10,000 14-year-olds born between 2000 and 2002 in the United Kingdom to examine the associations between social media use and depressive symptoms.

Overall, girls reported more social media use than boys. More than 43% of girls used social media for three or more hours per day compared to 21.9% of boys. … girls were more likely to have low self-esteem, to have body weight dissatisfaction, and to be unhappy with their appearance. Girls were also likely to report fewer hours of sleep and disrupted sleep.”

It is noteworthy that Bill Gates did not allow his children to get cell phones until they turned 14. Years ago, Steve Jobs prohibited his kids from using the newly-released iPad. Actually, many Silicon Valley parents are reported to be strict about their children’s technology usage. What did or do they know that some of us might not?

Girls comparing themselves to some impossible ideal has been a reality since well before Twiggy or Seventeen magazine or Teen Vogue. Navigating the barrage of media messages while one’s body and emotions are constantly changing is not easy. As parents, grandparents and friends we must be alert to and empathetic regarding these challenges. Although there might be only a correlation and not causation between social media usage and low self-image for girls, we have got to be alert to the possible dangers of internet saturation. As adults, we should be firm in explaining and setting down the rules and monitoring what is being seen and heard. Most importantly, we can show our children how much we love them by spending time together, unplugged, and focused on the things in life that truly matter.

“These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:1-7) “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)

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