Teens, self-esteem, and social media

Deciding the direction for your life. Maintaining high grades. Being a kind friend, sibling, daughter or son. Excelling at an extracurricular activity. Fitting in at school. Consistently getting more “followers” and “likes” on social media. Keeping a part-time job.

These are just some of the pressures that your teen is facing today. Just one of these expectations, placed on themselves or by others, is enough to stress anyone out. Youth are dealing with challenges unlike any generation before them.

These pressures can affect your child’s self-esteem.


Self-esteem is how a person feels about themselves. It can be positive or negative. Although self-esteem is built internally, a lot of external elements can play a part in how someone view themselves – a person’s family, the media they’re exposed to, and the social environment that they’re in. A positive self-esteem can be built in large part to having a feeling of success – knowing and believing that you are good and capable at something.

The self-esteem of a child and a teenager are going to be formed and influenced in different ways. Younger children look to their parents for validation and acceptance much more than teens do. Teenagers are in the process of becoming their own person and developing independence – messages from parents, although still important, take a back seat to the thoughts and opinions of friends and peer groups. Kids also have far less pressure and expectations on them than teenagers. With academic, social, familial, and sometimes financial burdens on their shoulders, teens are exposed to more instances where they could feel “unsuccessful,” – moments where they doubt themselves and their abilities. The amount of time spent on social media is another factor that differentiates how self-esteem is shaped differently in kids and teenagers.

Social media has changed the way we all socialize. Online interactions can be a way to connect, form relationships and gain information.

But on the flip side, a lot of negativity can surface from the keyboard – it’s easy to write something hurtful and shocking when you’re not seeing the reaction from behind the screen. In Canada, nearly 1 in 5, 15 to 29-year-olds have been cyberbullied. A decade ago, the power of a bully ended at the school doors. Home was a place of retreat from the harassment. But the online world has brought the bullying into the home and removed the opportunity for distance from the pain that bullying can bring.

Your teen turns to the online world for a sense of who they are and how they fit in just as much as face-to-face interactions – a “like” of a photo can feel great and a negative comment has the potential to hurt deeply. Sometimes teens can’t discern the significance of these social interactions and the truth behind them. If too much importance is placed on hurtful online comments, it can be devastating for a teenager’s self-esteem.

Your influence on your child is shrinking as they get older, but it’s certainly not irrelevant. Even at the times when your teenager feels the most distant, they want you to be proud of them, want you to love them, and want your approval.

Your role as a parent in your teen’s self-esteem and their involvement in social media is twofold – educate them and recognize their successes.

Your children’s exposure to social media should start with you. Teach them how to safely use these tools. Help them to understand what they are seeing and reading online and make them feel comfortable with coming to you if they experience something that confuses or hurts them.

Beyond any lessons or boundaries, a strong, loving relationship with your teen has the greatest chance of positively influencing their self-esteem.

Spend time with them. Take an interest in their passions. Celebrate their accomplishments. When you show them that you think they’re amazing, it will be so much easier for them to think it of themselves.

You want your child to feel great about themselves. We can help them get there. In as few as 8-10 sessions with one of our expert counsellors, your child can be equipped with the tools to face the world, online and off. Learn more about our counselling services.

Evans Hunt