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#JamesDonaldson On #MentalHealth – What #Selfies Are Doing to #Self-Esteem


How they can exacerbate insecurity, #anxiety and #depression

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

By Rachel Ehmke

What You’ll Learn

  • Are #selfies undermining #teenagers’ #self-esteem?
  • How can we teach kids to use #socialmedia responsibly?
  • How can we help our children build confidence?

The average #woman between 16 and 25 years old spends over five hours a week taking (and improving!) #selfies. While #selfies can be silly and lighthearted, there’s a darker side. With multiple attempts, makeup, retouching and filters, it’s become a competition for the perfect image. And the chances of feeling like you don’t measure up are very high. This makes experts worry about kids’ #self-esteem.

Although #socialmedia probably isn’t causing full-blown #mentalhealthdisorders, if a kid was already struggling, #socialmedia can make it worse. It can make kids who are depressed or anxious think less of themselves and spend more time comparing themselves to others.

The problem of #selfies has been the subject of research and surveys. There is even a phrase to describe people who are fixated on so-called flaws in their appearance because of #selfies. It’s “#selfiedysmorphia.” This is similar to a diagnosis called #bodydysmorphicdisorder, which is a #mentalhealthdisorder related to #OCD.

To help your child be more aware of how they use #socialmedia, try discussing how it makes them feel. Encourage them to think about how they’re feeling before they pick up their phone and to put it down if they start to feel bad.

Helping your child build their #self-esteem is important. Compliment your #daughter on how she looks, but also on the things she does and how hard she works. When she can see how her skills grow with time and effort, she’ll feel proud of herself. It will help her learn to look at who she is, and not fixate on how she looks.

#Selfies can be silly and lighthearted, of course, notes Alexandra Hamlet, PsyD, a clinical #psychologist. But she also recognizes the darker side, when photos become a measure of self-worth. “With makeup, with retouch, with filters, with multiple, multiple attempts, it’s almost like you’re never going to stack up,” says Dr. Hamlet, “And that is where I think it gets dangerous.”

Research backs this up. The Wall Street Journal recently uncovered secret research conducted over several years by #Instagram and its owner #Facebook that found that “thirty-two percent of #teen #girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, #Instagram made them feel worse.” They also found that comparisons on #Instagram “can change how young #women view and describe themselves” and that teens blamed #Instagram for increases in their #anxiety and #depression.

#Parents and experts are understandably worried about what this means for kids’ #self-esteem and #mentalhealth as #teenagers increasingly turn to #socialmedia apps for entertainment and to feel connected to peers.

#JamesDonaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

Seeking perfection

If you’ve been telling your daughter that she’s beautiful just the way she is, she’s getting a different message when she opens up #Instagram and sees filters and lenses that alter appearances. Pictures used to be final; now we have post-production.

Dr. Hamlet acknowledges that some of the filters are fun and distort in amusing ways, but also points out there are “pretty filters” on #Instagram and #Snapchat. Beautifying filters are used almost reflexively by many, which means that #girls are getting used to seeing their peers effectively airbrushed every single day online. There are also image altering apps that #teens can download for more substantial changes. Facetune is one popular one, but there are many, and they can be used to do everything from erase pimples to change the structure of your face or make you look taller. One app called RetouchMe gives your photo a “professional retouch” using a photo editing team for under a dollar.

The possibilities can be overwhelming, particularly since #girls know they are scrutinized on their appearance — as, of course, they are scrutinizing their peers.

Too much comparison

#Self-esteem often takes a hit when you start comparing yourself too much to other people, which is something #socialmedia seems to be made for. One study found that frequently viewing #selfies led to decreased #self-esteem and decreased life satisfaction. Another study found that #girls who spend more time looking at pictures on #Facebook reported higher weight dissatisfaction and self-objectification.

In her book Enough As She Is, Rachel Simmons writes about pressures facing #girls, including comparing themselves to peers on #socialmedia and feeling that they were coming up short. One 18-year-old #girl told her, “I don’t hate myself when I’m alone. I just hate myself in comparison to other people.”

Thanks to #socialmedia, that time alone in your head that most #adults grew up with has been eroded. Any spare moment she has, a young #woman now might easily open up #Instagram or #Snapchat, which means that she starts playing the comparison game.

Even if the pictures a #girl posts on #socialmedia get plenty of likes, she might still feel insecure — especially if she’s an #adolescent who is already feeling insecure and trying to make herself feel better, Dr. Hamlet notes. That’s because humans tend to be very “mood consistent,” she says. “It can feel icky to do something on the outside that is inconsistent with how we feel on the inside.” That’s why if you’re feeling sad, you might be more likely to want to listen to sad music instead of watch a comedy. And in the same way, if you are feeling judgmental and negative about yourself, it generally takes more than a good #selfie to pull yourself out of that trap.

#Mentalhealth consequences

While #socialmedia might not be causing a #mentalhealthdisorder, it can pull some kids closer into a diagnosable range if they are already struggling. “If you’re depressed or anxious, you’re probably going to be comparing yourself to others more, or devaluing yourself more,” explains Dr. Hamlet. “Maybe you’ll be striving even harder to try and ‘catch up,’ which is basically an impossible feat.” For some #teens the focus on appearance and perfectionism may contribute to an eating disorder.

The problem of #selfies has even attracted the attention of various professional journals for plastic surgeons, which have been posting articles about increasing requests for plastic surgery coming from young people. A poll from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons found that 42% of surgeons were asked to perform procedures for improved #selfies and pictures on #socialmedia platforms. The journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery published an article called “When Is Teenage Plastic Surgery Versus Cosmetic Surgery Okay?” exploring the safety and ethical considerations of performing different procedures and providing “cosmetic medication” like Botox and fillers to #adolescent clients.

There is even a term for kids who are fixating on their appearance because of #socialmedia — #selfiedysmorphia, which is also sometimes called #Snapchat #dysmorphia. While this isn’t a real diagnosis, it is a term that recognizes that more people are experiencing a #dysmorphia, or idea that there is something fundamentally flawed in their appearance.

It also gestures to a diagnosis that is real: #bodydysmorphicdisorder, which is a #mentalhealthdisorder related to #OCD. People with body #dysmorphicdisorder are obsessed with what they perceive to be a disfiguring flaw, like a large nose or ears, a blemish on the skin, or underdeveloped muscles. These flaws might be imagined or very minor and blown out of proportion.

While most #children won’t develop body #dysmorphicdisorder, or even so-called #selfiedysmorphia, they can still exist somewhere on the spectrum of fixating on their appearance, just as they might be struggling with #anxiety and #depression, whether or not they are at a clinical level.

Being more mindful about #socialmedia

#Parents who want to provide a healthy counterbalance to the pressures of #socialmedia can start by evaluating how they use #socialmedia themselves. Make sure you aren’t talking too much about the pictures you post or see, or ask your #children to take too many pictures. The occasional photo is fine, of course, but make a point of prioritizing being in the moment, too. “If you’re taking your kid to a concert, don’t allow them to film the whole thing and see it only through the eyes of the camera,” says Dr. Hamlet. “That’s reinforcing this concept that just being here is not good enough.”

Dr. Hamlet also recommends that #parents encourage #teens to become more mindful about how they use their phones — and model doing this, too. “Before you pick up your device, understand why you’re picking it up. What emotional state are you in? Are you anxious? Picking up that phone to check to see what’s on #socialmedia is probably going to heighten that #anxiety. The same with sadness. It’s just going to make it worse.”

Try having a plan for what you’re going to do on #Instagram or #Snapchat. This might include how long you’ll be using it and what you want to see. And while you are using #socialmedia, observe how it makes you feel, and be ready to put it down if it starts making you feel bad.

Building #self-esteem

Prioritizing a girl’s appearance is nothing new in society, but with #selfies #girls are getting inundated with the feedback that how they look is important. That’s why it is up to #parents to make sure #girls are getting the message that what #women think and do is even more important. Don’t hold back from complimenting your #daughter on her appearance, but make an effort to compliment her at least as much for the things she does and how hard she works.

While it is good for anyone’s #self-esteem to like the way they look, it is crucial to have many sources of #self-esteem. For a young woman’s long-term happiness, it will be more deeply rewarding for her to find things that she cares about and practice doing them. Dr. Hamlet calls this “developing mastery and accumulating positives in your life.”

Having a personal interest in something and seeing how your skills grow with time and effort makes you feel proud of what you can do, and takes the focus away from achieving perfection, which is impossible. It also encourages girls to look inside themselves for their #self-esteem (and not just to compliments from others) which is an important part of growing into a happy, confident #woman.

Rachel Ehmke

Rachel Ehmke is managing editor at the #ChildMindInstitute.


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