Is Social Media Giving Your Teen a Negative Body Image?

As if adolescence weren't painful enough, the pressure to be "camera-ready" may be adding to teens' body dissatisfaction – and leading to self-destructive behavior.
Caroline Knorr Senior Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Facebook, Instagram, and Social, Media and Body Image, Technology Addiction
Senior Parenting Editor | Mom of one
Is Social Media Giving Your Teen a Negative Body Image?

Not too long ago, girls might have stressed about being "bikini-ready" every spring when the bathing suit magazines would hit the stands. And boys might have done a few extra pushups after seeing Wolverine's abs. But now, thanks to photo-centric social media like Instagram, Snapchat and other messaging apps, kids are exposed to a constant drumbeat of bikini bodies, six-pack abs, and just-right hair 24/7. And it's not just celebrities pushing idealized images of human perfection. It's your teens' friends posting pictures of themselves and one another for all the world to see and comment on. What's worse, many of these moments are captured seemingly unplanned, increasing kids' anxiety about looking "perfect" -- but effortlessly so -- at all times.

According to Common Sense Media's body-image study, Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, teens who are active online worry a lot about how they're perceived. In fact, body dissatisfaction appears to be on the rise in the United States. A study by the Keep it Real Campaign found that 80 percent of 10-year-old American girls have been on a diet. Examples of negative teen body image are all over the Web. In YouTube videos, kids ask an Internet audience to tell them if they're pretty or ugly. They rate each other on Instagram. They bare themselves and beg for feedback on formspring.me. They edit their selfies and drink in advice about how to improve their online image.

Why are teens turning to the Internet for body image validation? Well, because they can. In adolescence, self-consciousness and the need for peer-validation are at their height, and the Internet acts as a kind of "super peer," providing a quick route to satisfying both concerns. But no one knows how all this criticism and judgment affect teens' body image. Research on media and body image to date has focused on so-called "traditional" mainstream media -- TV, movies, music, magazines, advertising -- containing unrealistic, idealized, and stereotypical portrayals of body types. But in a world where the feedback is constant, often negative, frequently public, and interactive, it can't be good.

Body image doesn't just happen. It's a complex phenomenon influenced by many factors, including parents, peers, and social contexts. But we know that media messages play a powerful role in shaping gender norms and body satisfaction.

Given that young people today are no longer only passive consumers of media -- they're also creating and sharing peer-to-peer media messages about boys' and girls' appearance – they have the tools of change in their hands. But they need guidance on how to use them. Parents are in a unique position to help their kids counteract negative messages by encouraging them to use media positively, creatively, and responsibly. And above all, to learn to value themselves as complex individuals -- not just another pretty face.

Get tips on talking to your daughters and sons about their body images.

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About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (6)

Teen, 13 years old written by internetlovingteen

Negative body image would happen even without the internet, but it appears to be exasperated by the internet. Depending on where they go on the internet, it could be more or less of a problem. For example, if they spend most of the day posting selfies on Instagram and reading clickbait, this will be more of a problem. However, if they stay up all night posting on internet forums and reading digital newspapers, this might be less of a problem. Plus, if you think that your teenager might have a negative body image, just ask them. They'd probably love to talk about it, just to get it off their chest.
Parent written by Sahithya

Social media is one of the reasons for the negative body image in teens. With this social media, we could see lot of behavioral changes in teens. They are always sticking to social media networking.
Teen, 17 years old written by ashjbrown

Negative body images don't come from the internet, at least not at first. From the time we are little we see actors and actresses on TV that are skinny/physically fit. I remember even at age six or seven thinking that I wasn't skinny like those actresses, and at that point I hadn't even been introduced to the internet. And it's because of this that teenagers now are looking towards the internet for people to tell them that their size doesn't matter, that their stretch marks are beautiful, that any "imperfections" on their body is what makes them unique and beautiful. This problem didn't come from the internet, instead it came from the portrayal us kids see at such a young age from either on the TV or on ads in the streets and developed into what it is today. So until there is proper portrayal of all body images on TV, where the skinny girls and guys aren't always the only ones getting their happy ending, the adult generation has no right to judge us for what we're feeling and for how we seek acceptance.
Teen, 15 years old written by xxsidsidxx

I have something I don't like to say....anorexia Social Midea only takes a small reason why I got anorexia Also it was because of my surroundings if I'm with people who are average I think I'm fatter than theam I think it is also just something no one has the answer to All you need to remember is that social midea only takes a small reason why people hate theam self and how they look
Educator written by NicoleCRegan

Much obliged for this post, I could not agree more with you. Looks have become so very important for teens that they are biased towards those who are not that concerned. I think the plus size population has suffering due to this attitude,whereas they should be taught to accept their body as it is and enjoy plus size clothing. For some ideas and designs for plus size teens, please see- http://www.casual-plus.com