Protecting our Daughters’ Self-Esteem: How does the Internet Harm Our Girls?

Image via San Jose Library
Image via San José Library

By Amy Williams

In a world where trending stories revolve around human Barbies and celebrity plastic surgery fails, it’s easy to get distracted by superficial concerns. Selfies and “belfies” (pictures of a person’s toned backside) flood teens’ news feeds begging for “likes” and comments. Social media and the Internet play huge roles in how girls view their bodies, relationships, and personalities. Girls are absorbing these radical ideas about body image and developing self-esteem problems.

In a study of 1,000 high-school-aged girls, experts from Flinders University found that “social media is a more powerful influence on teenage girls than traditional media because it is so pervasive and interactive.” Dr. Slater, one of the researchers, said comments from peers were of the utmost importance:

“A lot of the commentary is very appearance-focused. [Even] a positive comment about appearance can still have a negative impact on how you feel about yourself by putting overemphasis on appearance.”

The study revealed that “96% of girls said that they had access to some form of Internet connection at home, and of these girls, 72% said that they uploaded pictures of themselves on the Internet.” The fact that the word “selfie” was recently added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a sign that today’s society is embracing this fad, complete with duck lips.

Obsessing over snapping the perfect selfie and getting negative feedback might lead to lower self-esteem in some girls. Low self-esteem is “a thinking disorder in which an individual views him/herself as inadequate, unloveable, and/or incompetent. Once formed, this negative view permeates every thought, producing faulty assumptions and ongoing self-defeating behavior.”

About 7 in 10 girls already feel they are inadequate, and social media might prey on these insecurities. Women and young girls, just like many of us, suffer from personal insecurities. Even before the advent of Facebook, the teenage years have historically been accompanied by self-doubt. Social media and the ever-popular selfie can magnify your daughter’s flaws and influence how she perceives her appearance, school performance, and relationships with peers and family.

Being aware of what your child is seeing online is the key to keeping our daughters safe. Research from Cox Communications states that 25% of teenagers acknowledge their parents are aware of “little to nothing” of their activity online. This is surprising, considering that girls between the ages of 12 and 16 spend about 3.5 hours on the Internet daily. That’s a significant aspect of these teenagers’ lives to which some parents aren’t paying adequate attention.

We all know the Internet opens a world of knowledge, hobbies, and outlets for teens to explore. However, a lot of girls are immensely active on sites likee Facebook and Twitter that can encourage negative behaviors like cyber bullying, thinspiration, and low self-esteem. Not surprisingly, the Internet can harbor predators seeking easy victims.

Learning to navigate the Internet is another skill that needs to be taught during a teen’s development. Many parents think twice before allowing their daughter to ride the bus or roam the mall alone. Using the Internet should be no different. Amazing as social media can be, it retains the possibility of turning into a frightening experience for users. Parents need to up their game and provide guidance and balance for children in the cyber world.

Lately, there has been a trend to embrace uniqueness and change what constitutes beauty. Celebrity Melissa McCarthy has drawn attention for her body image and self-acceptance. Dove promotes everyday women in their ads. Marketing images have been surfacing on social media depicting what is considered beautiful around the world. People are starting to become aware of the power of “Facebook envy” and the anxiety it can create.

One way girls and women are combatting this desire for perfection is by posting “no make-up selfies.” It started as a movement to raise awareness and money for cancer, but celebrities and everyday people flooded their feeds with natural selfies. People are becoming increasingly open to the idea that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

We live in a world where our daughters are exposed to Photoshopped ads in magazines and perfected images on television and the silver screen. Unrealistic ideals are everywhere. By acknowledging possible self-esteem hurdles lurking online, parents might lessen girls’ exposure to critical comments.

Parents need to promote healthy behaviors at home by discussing self-esteem issues in a non-threatening environment. Be cautious of how you talk about your own body and other people’s behind their backs, as girls can internalize this judgment and apply it to themselves. Limiting negative comments will be a step in the right direction, but a parent can also limit the amount of time a child spends on social medial.

Social media unlocks a world of connectivity and the sharing of ideas. This creates opportunities to celebrate each person for their uniqueness. Women are not molded from plastic ideals that celebrate one vision of beauty. To avoid a cookie-cutter world, girls need to embrace the beauty around them and create a trend for acceptance. We may just save our girls’ self-esteem when we leap past idealized hurdles, and social media can be the vehicle for this movement.

Amy Williams is a journalist from Southern California. With a daughter of her own, this is an issue she is very passionate about and seeks to spread the word about through her writing. Find more of her work at her website.

2 thoughts on “Protecting our Daughters’ Self-Esteem: How does the Internet Harm Our Girls?

  1. Given the emphasis that our youth-worshiping culture has increasingly placed on personal appearance, what happens as we pile on the pressure of online perception from an early age? Who gets the chance to become old and wise gracefully? Is anyone allowed to grow up at all? For a meditation on that topic… (and the cops of culture surely bear their own peculiar types of badges and weapons).

    About facing this perception problem alongside our young children, what would we suggest they do? It’s a terrible thing to turn your back on the culture in which you’re being raised. But if you want to save yourself from fitting a cookie-cutter world, what choice is there? Say you swallow the spellbinding bait, join the ranks, try to compare to media stars and models and accepted classroom fashionistas and so on, and of course fail, what does that do to your self-esteem? Or say you buck the tremendous peer- and media-pressure and face the resulting rejection, what does that do to your image of how others perceive you? We can only hope someone else out there among the upcoming generation is choosing the more difficult of those two paths. Alienation gets easier, the more aliens there are around.
    ~ Thanks Always Returns

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