Skip to Content

How Social Media Affects Teenage Self-esteem & How To Protect Your Child

In developed countries, nearly all teens (94%) use social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook​1​.

It has become a part of teenagers’ lives and they spend so much time on social networking sites every day.

Many parents of teens are concerned about the impact of social media on young people, especially their self-esteem.

How Social Media Affects Teenage Self-esteem

Social media use has been linked to negative impacts on teens’ self-esteem in a number of studies.

However, most of them treated Internet use as a one-dimensional activity rather than identifying the responsible components that can affect self-esteem.

Different types of social media interactions actually affect self-esteem differently.

two teenagers looking at cellphones

Active vs. Passive usage

Self-perceived physical appearance and body image have the greatest impact on the self-esteem of adolescent girls​4​.

People on social platforms often share their most flattering pictures to appear appealing. A discrepancy between how someone sees themselves and their desired appearance can create a feeling of inadequacy and a sense of falling short.

Constant exposure to these idealized images provides ample opportunity for social comparison, exacerbating their negative body image issues and perpetuating a cycle of negative self-talk.

However, lower self-esteem is not a universal effect.

Recent studies have found that low self-esteem results from passively consuming information or commenting on others’ photos without posting their own social media posts​1​. Risks of depression are more prevalent among these teens​5​.

The longitudinal study showed that the self-esteem of those who use it actively by posting their own photos and receiving positive feedback was not affected.

The tone of feedback

Teens’ self-esteem can be impacted by the tone of the feedback they receive on social media.

Negative feedback delivered in a harsh and critical tone can lower self-esteem. But positive feedback in a warm and supportive tone can boost self-esteem and promote a more positive self-image​6​.

Supportive messages in a school online community can lead to better psychological well-being in students. In addition, online information sharing is associated with higher school achievement​7​.


In school, a child’s self-esteem can be severely damaged by being bullied. The constant harassment triggers feelings of shame, embarrassment, and worthlessness and chips away at teenagers’ confidence, leaving them feeling isolated and alone.

Online anonymity and distance make it even worse than real-life bullying. Cyber-bullies often engage in more aggressive behaviors than they would in person, deepening the adverse effects.

Cyberbullying can harm teenagers’ self-esteem, resulting in a lower sense of self-worth and a higher risk of mental health issues​8​.

Relationships & Social capital

While the use of social media has its downsides, there are benefits and positive impacts, too.

The teenage years are a period critical to an individual’s development. During this time, a teen builds long-term social skills, including those critical for independence, relationship maintenance, and career development.

The development and maintenance of friendships play a crucial role in a teenager’s identity formation, future romantic relationships, and long-term family relationships​2​.

Social relationships affect adolescents’ development of self-esteem. They also provide teenagers with social capital that is associated with higher self-esteem.

The use of social media websites has made it easier to build and maintain relationships, and receive social support. Communicating through social media also mitigates fears of rejection in those who have social anxiety or who are shy.

A recent study indicates that teenagers and young adults with lower self-esteem can benefit from using social networks to cultivate and strengthen friendships to gain self-esteem​3​.

How To Protect Teenagers

Banning Social Media Use is Ineffective

The desire to control teens’ online behavior motivates them to hide.

Having grown up with this technology, teens will always find a way around parental control.

Limiting social media sites or banning them altogether is ineffective at best and irreparably damaging the parent-child relationship at worst, as teens perceive such controlling behavior as an obstacle to their autonomy or an intrusion to their privacy​9​.

The more parents try to take it away, the more teenagers crave it. Strict rules about screen time have been found to lead to social media addiction or compulsive internet use​10​.

Don’t let some negative experiences prevent your child from experiencing any positive ones.

Instead of tossing the baby out with the bathwater, teach your child to avoid the negative aspects while taking advantage of their positive effects.

Strengthen Parent-Child Relationship

Having a close and trusting parent-child relationship is critical in teaching them how to use social media safely.

A healthy relationship built on mutual trust, respect, and open communication can help foster a sense of responsibility and empower your teen to make informed decisions.

On the other hand, being a controlling or strict parent who limits your teen’s online use can create a rift and a lack of trust in your relationship. Your child will be less likely to listen to your advice and guidance. When they are cyberbullied or faced with a predator, they may not come to you for help.

Teach them how to use it safely

Teens can face negative influences no matter where they are or what they do, just like getting prank phone calls or seeing idealized pictures at the mall. 

But stopping them from doing these things entirely is extreme and counterproductive. Such a draconian and avoidance approach fails to address the issue’s root causes and does not teach them how to use the Internet properly.

A better way is to teach them how to use technology safely and responsibly and how to make good choices without missing out on the positive side.

Give them the tools and knowledge they need to navigate the digital world safely. This includes discussing potential risks and dangers and strategies for protecting personal information.

Keep open communication

Talking openly and non-judgmentally about teens’ internet usage can make them more likely to seek your help if they face negative situations.

Communication qualities matter.

Open, honest conversations with your teen help them feel understood, comforted, and taken seriously. They are less likely to use the Internet compulsively​11​.

The internet is a rapidly evolving landscape. New risks and challenges are constantly emerging. Maintaining open communication lets you stay informed about your teen’s online experiences and offer guidance as needed.

Research also that open discussion about internet content rather than usage time is also associated with less compulsive internet use.

Encourage them to maintain close friendships

It’s important to surround oneself with positive influences, and social media can be a useful tool for maintaining connections with supportive friends. 

Teach your teenager to use social media in a way that promotes their well-being.

For example, only add those they trust and are close with to their friend list. They can be selective about who they engage with online.

Follow accounts that inspire them or engage in activities that promote positive self-image. Set boundaries and limit exposure to negative individuals that may bring them down.

Empower them to choose positive interactions

Healthy social media use can help teenagers avoid self-esteem issues. Participating in groups that align with their interests and values can help them build a sense of community and belonging.

Encourage teens to support their friends and choose positive interactions to create a supportive environment.

Don’t engage in negative online interactions, fighting, or cyberbullying, and don’t be afraid to ignore or eliminate undesirable encounters or feedback.

Build self-esteem in daily life

Psychologists believe that self-esteem comprises three distinct dimensions: self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity​12​.

Engaging in activities can be an effective way for teenagers to build healthy self-esteem and a sense of competence. Offline activities also help keep them from excessive Internet use.

Check out for more ideas on how to boost your teen’s self-esteem: How To Build High Self-Esteem


  1. 1.
    Steinsbekk S, Wichstrøm L, Stenseng F, Nesi J, Hygen BW, Skalická V. The impact of social media use on appearance self-esteem from childhood to adolescence – A 3-wave community study. Computers in Human Behavior. Published online January 2021:106528. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2020.106528
  2. 2.
    Collins WA, Laursen B. Changing Relationships, Changing Youth. The Journal of Early Adolescence. Published online February 2004:55-62. doi:10.1177/0272431603260882
  3. 3.
    Steinfield C, Ellison NB, Lampe C. Social capital, self-esteem, and use of online social network sites: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Published online November 2008:434-445. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2008.07.002
  4. 4.
    von Soest T, Wichstrøm L, Kvalem IL. The development of global and domain-specific self-esteem from age 13 to 31. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online April 2016:592-608. doi:10.1037/pspp0000060
  5. 5.
    Frison E, Eggermont S. Browsing, Posting, and Liking on Instagram: The Reciprocal Relationships Between Different Types of Instagram Use and Adolescents’ Depressed Mood. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Published online October 2017:603-609. doi:10.1089/cyber.2017.0156
  6. 6.
    Valkenburg PM, Peter J, Schouten AP. Friend Networking Sites and Their Relationship to Adolescents’ Well-Being and Social Self-Esteem. CyberPsychology & Behavior. Published online October 2006:584-590. doi:10.1089/cpb.2006.9.584
  7. 7.
    Ahn J. The effect of social network sites on adolescents’ social and academic development: Current theories and controversies. J Am Soc Inf Sci. Published online April 26, 2011:1435-1445. doi:10.1002/asi.21540
  8. 8.
    Cénat JM, Hébert M, Blais M, Lavoie F, Guerrier M, Derivois D. Cyberbullying, psychological distress and self-esteem among youth in Quebec schools. Journal of Affective Disorders. Published online December 2014:7-9. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.07.019
  9. 9.
    Valkenburg PM, Peter J. Online Communication Among Adolescents: An Integrated Model of Its Attraction, Opportunities, and Risks. Journal of Adolescent Health. Published online February 2011:121-127. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.08.020
  10. 10.
    van den Eijnden RJJM, Spijkerman R, Vermulst AA, van Rooij TJ, Engels RCME. Compulsive Internet Use Among Adolescents: Bidirectional Parent–Child Relationships. J Abnorm Child Psychol. Published online September 2, 2009:77-89. doi:10.1007/s10802-009-9347-8
  11. 11.
    Benedetto L, Ingrassia M. Digital Parenting: Raising and Protecting Children in Media World. Parenting – Studies by an Ecocultural and Transactional Perspective. Published online January 27, 2021. doi:10.5772/intechopen.92579
  12. 12.
    Stets JE, Burke PJ. Self-Esteem and Identities. Sociological Perspectives. Published online July 3, 2014:409-433. doi:10.1177/0731121414536141


    * All information on is for educational purposes only. Parenting For Brain does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician. *