Managing Social Media and Body Confidence
Snapchat, instas, finstas, Tik Tok... the social media landscape is always changing, but one constant is that it’s an unavoidable part of teen life in 2020. Our daughters are navigating a world we couldn’t have even imagined at their age. It can be hard for parents to even keep up, let alone know how to support healthy social media habits.
While social media use has many positives, research shows it can also negatively impact girls’ confidence, self-esteem, and body image. As parents, it’s important to know the risks and best practices of social media engagement.
We love the guidance from psychologist Dr. Charlotte Markey, who uses the acronym F.A.C.E. for her evidence-based suggestions for healthy coping with social media. She advises young people to Filter, Avoid, be Careful of Comparisons, and Evaluate.
When it comes to posting pictures on social media our teens know a lot about filters -- clarendon, juno, and ludwig are among the most popular ones on instagram.
But research on body image has found that young people who feel good about themselves are often skilled at a very specific type of “protective filtering.” This means that they know how to protect themselves from influences that might make them feel bad.
For example, do posts from influencers with seemingly flawless lives, or fitspo accounts that feature unattainable body types, trigger your daughter to make comparisons and feel bad about herself? Does posting on one app in particular make her obsess and stress over likes and comments?
Encourage her to practice protective filtering: identifying what types of social media make her feel bad, and filtering them out. As parents, we can help our daughters spot both the good and the bad in social media. Your daughter may love that she can express her creativity or stay in touch with camp friends through social media. What if she engages selectively in just the parts that are working for her?
Try sitting with your daughter and looking at her feed with her from time to time. With neutral curiosity, explore with her -- what’s this account? Do you like following this person? How come? You can help her build awareness of how different ways of engaging with social media make her feel -- the first step before deciding who or what she might want to filter out.
This isn’t about an all-or-nothing approach, or avoiding social media altogether. Instead, “avoid” means identifying when to use social media, and when it might be better to just avoid it. Setting limits on the times of day when your daughter can use social media can help her create healthy boundaries.
For example, research shows that screen use before bed negatively impacts sleep. A family rule that phones stay out of bedrooms at night could help your teen get a break from social media and prioritize her health and sleep.
Other examples might be a no-phones-at-mealtime policy, to support family connection and conversation. Or keeping phones in another room during homework time, to allow for undistracted investment in schoolwork.
Your limits can create a guardrail around how deeply invested your daughter becomes in social media. As much as she may not show or express it, she may even feel some relief at having a boundary set by you that she may find too hard to set for herself. By helping her find balance and avoid social media at certain times, you can help your daughter make more conscious decisions about what she really wants to invest her time and energy in.
Be Careful of Comparisons
The biggest contributor to negative body image experiences from social media is social comparison. When our daughters compare themselves -- their appearance, their bodies, their lives -- to people they see on social media, they might feel like they don’t measure up. Seeing someone else who is “better” can trigger them to feel inferior, insecure, and bad about themselves.
It’s human nature to compare yourself to others -- but it can help your daughter to become more aware of what comparisons she’s making and when. How do social media comparisons make her feel? Who is she comparing herself to? Is it only celebrities, influencers, and peers who have a certain look? If she is going to compare, what would it feel like to compare herself to a more realistic set of people? Can she add a more diverse range of people and experiences to her feed?
Your daughter may also benefit from self-compassion instead of self-judgment as a response to comparison. When confronted with someone else’s perceived beauty or success, many of our minds tend to go straight to the ways we don’t measure up. But there is another possible approach -- to speak to yourself with kindness and acceptance instead. Try modeling compassion and acceptance of your own flaws and strengths, and encourage your daughter to do the same.
Finally, a key skill for navigating social media is the ability to critically evaluate what you see. So much of what our daughters see on social media is filtered, Facetuned, strategically posed, and edited. To see apparently perfect images of a celebrity -- or often, a peer -- and believe it is reality can be damaging to your daughter’s self esteem and body image, especially if she compares herself to that manipulated image.
Talk to your daughter about how images online are often not reflective of real life. What she’s seeing may not be possible to achieve without extreme measures, or even editing software.
And by the way, this doesn’t have to be one big sit-down conversation -- in fact, it will probably be more effective if it’s not. Try using small moments to casually observe and comment on representations of women and their bodies you see online with your daughter: “Wow, that can’t possibly be real!” or “Do you see how her leg has been photoshopped there?” You might ask if she uses Facetune, or has friends who do, and wonder together how she feels about it.
This can help your daughter start examining what she sees online with a more critical eye and thoughtfully evaluating the images she’s consuming.
Best practices for social media are all about building self-awareness around how you’re using it. As a parent, try encouraging thoughtful engagement with social media in your teen or tween. Using the strategies of Filter, Avoid, be Careful about Comparisons, and Evaluate, you can help your daughter get attuned to how social media makes her feel, start thinking critically about what she sees, and avoid getting too invested in it as a reflection of her self worth.
The Full Bloom Project is a research-informed body-positive parenting resource—designed by parents, for parents founded by Zoë Bisbing, LCSW and Leslie Bloch, LCSW-R, both psychotherapists based in New York City. Click here to purchase a copy of The ABC’s of Body-Positive Parenting.