October 15, 2021
Let's just admit it—we check our social media feeds a lot. And guess what? The story isn't much different for kids. A recent report by the nonprofit Thorn found that 40% of kids under 13 are already on Instagram, despite Facebook's loosely enforced minimum age requirement.
For kids, it’s not just about watching funny videos or games (although that may be true too). Many kids see social media as a primary form of social interaction and connection—especially after the events of 2020 pushed many of those activities online. Unfortunately, when kids form early and unsupervised lives on the internet—including the wide world of social media— it can negatively impact their well being, mental health, and self-esteem. As a result, many parents worry about the effects of social media on their kids.
Research indicates that around two-thirds of parents (65%) have concerns that the lives portrayed in online video blogs (or "vlogs" as they're known) give kids unrealistic expectations about real life. Meanwhile, another 69% of parents admit they find it difficult to know whether certain vlogs or vloggers are suitable for their kids. Internet Matters ambassador and psychologist Dr. Linda Papadopoulos warns that social media and virtual influencers can have potentially damaging effects on a child’s self-esteem, body image, and understanding of “real life.”
Vlogs aren’t the only issue though. A recent study found more broadly that frequent social media use is linked to depression in teens. As little as a one-hour annual increase in social media use was associated with an increase in depressive symptoms and a decrease in self esteem.
This isn’t surprising considering the recent explosive revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. According to Haugen, and as reported in Wall Street Journal, Facebook’s own internal studies found that 13.5% of teen girls say browsing Facebook-owned Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse. Another 17% say the app worsens eating disorders. Despite knowing this, the documents reveal Facebook's continual push to target younger and younger audiences.
So what can you do as a parent? In this article, we’ll talk about some additional ways that social media can negatively affect a child’s self-esteem, and we’ll discuss what you as a parent can do to improve their self-esteem.
When it comes to online interaction and kids, the combination of the two is ripe for issues. Kids are still learning to socialize and get along, both online and in real life, and in today’s world, bullies have moved seamlessly into the digital sphere. “Kids text all sorts of things that you would never in a million years contemplate saying to anyone’s face,” says Donna Wick, EdD, a clinical and developmental psychologist.
On the other end of the spectrum, some kids become hyper-aware of being ignored, or simply not getting as much “engagement” on their posts as others. This can also be harmful to a child’s self-esteem.
Unrealistic comparisons to others are also problematic. Even as an adult, it’s hard not to feel the pang of comparison when you see pictures of a friend’s fabulous beach vacation or other perfectly curated scene. The danger is that kids are even less able to differentiate whats fake or curated from what's really real. Many kids may compare themselves to celebrities or even other kids from school, then their attention quickly turns to self-criticism.
Feeling pressured to post certain things or present themselves in a specific way is also an issue for kids. This can lead to anxiety and unhealthy “people pleasing” behavior that may move from online to real life.
Influencers can be celebrities or regular people with a following that enables them to “monetize” their social media presence. In fact, not all influencers are even real! That’s right, some influencers are robots created by individuals or companies and their content gets millions of views. Not surprisingly, many children don’t realize this—and the adults in their lives may not either. Meanwhile, even real humans are often paid to promote products, such as beauty, bodybuilding, or weight loss items, that contribute to children developing negative feelings about themselves and/or their bodies.
So often, influencers display a lifestyle that kids want but can’t have—spending money on designer clothes, traveling all over the world, and always appearing to have perfect hair or makeup. Again, this distorted image can harm a child’s self-esteem, as well as giving them an unrealistic view of how their life should be when they grow up.
When you combine this with the understanding that powerful targeting algorithms used by social media giants will continue to push more and more of this content into our view, you have a recipe for a rabbit hole of shame and negative self esteem.
Because of all this, there's in fact a growing trend of kids “wanting to be an influencer” when they grow up - a career path that didn't exist even just a decade ago.
It’s important to talk with kids about how and why what they see online may not be real, and how to study influencers’ bios and think about their motivations in what they post. This requires an ongoing conversation, and until your child is old enough to build maturity and understanding they'll need adult engagement and supervision to help them navigate this brave new digital world.
Although social media isn’t recommended for kids younger than 13, research shows that a majority of kids join a social site before the age of 10. Although Instagram “requires” users to be at least 13, about 11 percent of parents in the US admit their 9-to-11-year-olds use the site.
This has led to more kids, especially girls, basing their body image on the celebrities and influencers who post heavily edited photos. Other studies show that the more time girls spend on social media, the more likely they are to develop an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.
Meanwhile, celebrities like Khloe Kardashian freely admit to using filtering or editing apps like FaceTune to improve their photos. Even knowing this, younger kids may feel like they need FaceTune to change how they look online because how they really look doesn't compare. And while celebrities may use the app to make more money off an Instagram feed, tweens are using it to bolster self-esteem, when they should be learning to build a sense of self acceptance for who they are.
Often kids don’t even know that the famous influencers they look up are faking how they appear using an app. This leads to even more harsh self-criticism of their own appearances. They may develop mental and physical issues while trying to reach unattainable beauty or fitness goals. Negative outcomes include eating disorders, body dysmorphia, negative body image, depression, and low self-esteem.
Cyberbullying, defined as bullying that happens through digital mediums like computers and smartphones, is on the rise. A recent study found that 21 percent of kids between the ages of 10 and 18 had been cyberbullied. More than half of these incidents happened between January and July of 2020, and it’s believed that the increase in online interactions overall, due to the global pandemic, helped fuel the uptick in cyberbullying.
Although many kids have returned to in-person schooling, cyberbullying remains a problem. It allows bullies to go after their victims any time, instead of being confined to a time or place like school. Research also shows that as kids get older, they’re more likely to be cyberbullied, making it a problem they can’t grow out of.
Although kids can be bullied through text messages or emails, most commonly they’re attacked on social media, possibly because bullies often enjoy humiliating others in a public forum. Surprisingly, YouTube is the social site where kids are most likely to be bullied with 79 percent of kids who have experienced cyberbullying using it. YouTube is followed by Snapchat at 69 percent, TikTok at 64 percent, and Facebook at 49 percent.
The negative impacts of online bullying have been linked to many things, include disordered eating, reduced self-esteem, and sleep disturbances. These may result in behavioral issues, like including skipping school or using drugs or alcohol.
The real-world consequences of online interactions are deep and serious and critical for parents or guardians to understand to ensure child safety online.
There are several important steps you can take to help boost your child’s self-esteem and encourage them to have a positive self-image.
Self-esteem starts to form as early as infancy and is reinforced throughout childhood. A wide variety of issues can cause kids to develop self-doubt and reduced self-esteem, but you as a parent can help build their confidence. There are many things you can do to help—assist them with learning new skills, large or small; offer positive encouragement for both things they do well and things they put a lot of effort into, regardless of results; and discourage them from harsh self-criticism.
Setting clear time limits for social media and prioritizing engagement with real-world human interaction and activity helps kids engage with the real world. The more time they spend with other regular people, the less time they’ll spend worrying about why they don’t look like a heavily edited influencer.
Kids younger than 13 should not use social media without adult supervision, and shouldn’t have their own accounts. If they want to watch videos on YouTube or TikTok, put these apps on the TV in the main or family room, so you can keep track of what they’re watching and make sure it isn’t inappropriate. Reducing social media exposure until they’re older helps protect them from the effects of influencers, while also limiting screen time for kids.
Communication is key in helping kids learn to navigate the world of social media, before allowing them unsupervised access to it. Talk to your kids about how the internet allows people to conceal their identities, and why it’s important that they don’t accept friend requests from random strangers. Explain that they should never give out personal info like where they live or go to school.
It’s also a good idea to talk about your own use of social media. If, like most people, you sometimes use photo filters, explain to your kids why you do so. For example, you might say that it’s funny (I mean, the cat ears or horse faces are pretty hilarious) or to explore how you’d look with a different hairstyle. But you’re using these apps for amusement, and not because you feel a need to “fix” how you look in your day-to-day life.
Likewise, tell your kids how you deal with unpleasant people online. For example: “When someone starts calling me names or being really rude or insulting, I unfriend and block them. I don’t need or want to put up with that, and you shouldn’t either.” This lets the child know that they don’t have to put up with online bullying, and can disengage if someone makes them uncomfortable.
Exercise is a great way to help build a child’s self-esteem. In fact, research shows that exercise helps kids build confidence while reducing anxiety and depression and improving self-esteem and cognitive skills.
But many parents struggle to get kids to step away from screens, while others worry about their children playing outside or walking to school. One idea is to set a daily goal for activity with incentives. A fitness tracker for kids can be a great way to do this and help your child get in shape while addressing all these issues.
With a tracker like the COSMO JrTrack 2, kids can set goals and milestones for steps taken during the day.
It’s important to remember that not all technology is bad. Ultimately technology is a tool - but too often it's a tool design to draw us all, including kids, down further and further into a digital world.
Today, there's a growing call for better tech that actually prioritizes kids and parents. And that's where kids smartwatches come in. These kinds of devices are simple but powerful solutions that don't sacrifice connection or safety. And when built and used well, they can actually be tools to help boost children’s self esteem by encouraging them to focus on what’s important—real connections with others.
Here are three ways that smartwatches for kids can actually help be used to help boost confidence and promote healthy habits:
Smartwatches for kids have many features, and the best ones include fitness tracking so your child can stay on track. Children respond well to rewards, and the COSMO Smartwatch puts you in charge of deciding step or fitness goals.
Consider making it a fun challenge and incentivizing success with a reward. You decide what will motivate your child, and the fitness tracker lets them know how they’re doing.
It’s important to choose the right smartwatch for your child. Some models may allow kids unrestricted access to the internet and social media. This reduces the benefits and gives kids a screen to stare at without time limits, instead of encouraging exercise and real-world activities. Instead, be sure to choose from smartwatches for kids that block internet access but still allow your family to stay connected through voice calls.
The COSMO JrTrack 2, for example, has a firewall to block out all internet access and social media. The built-in fitness tracker allows your child to work toward step count goals, promoting healthy habits and a positive self-image. While your child is playing outside or finding other physical activities to add steps, they aren’t staring at a screen or obsessing over how they measure up to a famous influencer. This also helps to promote strong self-esteem in children.
Also, remaining connected is key. Knowing that a loving parent is just a call or message away any time can be a powerful thing for kids who may be prone to fear or insecurity. The best smartwatch models block out any non-approved calls or messages so you'll know who's voices connected to them are ones they can trust. Think of it as a simpler, real world social network. Easy access to calling a messaging without needing an algorithm.
Today, there are so many things to worry about - both in the real world as well as the digital one. From online predators to worries about safety in your own neighborhood, it's hard for parents to feel like they can let kids be kids and explore. And yet, that's such an important part of kids learning and growing. Ultimately it's one of the great challenges of raising kids - giving them both protection and freedom.
While there's no automatic solution for parenting, fortunately, there are tools to help. The COSMO JrTrack 2 comes with GPS tracking features, so you never have to wonder where your child is, or if they made it to school okay. The built-in GPS tracker for kids reports their location in real-time, and you can set it to alert you if the child exits a specific location at a certain time—such as if they leave school early, or wander beyond your own block.
There's a powerful peace of mind in knowing that your child can safely play outside, and you’ll be notified immediately if they go too far. Then you're just a call or message to find out what’s going on. It's the power of letting your child know you're always there for them, even when it's important for them to be on their own.
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