| Social media

Clicks that build self-esteem. How technologies affect confidence.

| 01 Oct 2023

Does social media technology increase or decrease your child’s confidence? Both are possible. Luckily, the effect that technology has on children can be controlled. How can you use technology in a beneficial way? And how can you support your child’s self-esteem? We discussed the topic with child psychologist Jarmila Tomkova.

It’s not only about the technology

Social media technology can affect how children view themselves, but their influence is underlined by other, non-technological elements. “The most important factors are the psychological state of the children, the quality of their relationships, variability of their hobbies and skills and overall sense of safety and opportunities perceived in their family and culture, as well as the political environment in which they live,” Jarmila Tomkova explains. “For instance, research shows that people who have lived in authoritative regimes get more confident when they first encounter the online world and all of its possibilities.

Through technology, they can be in contact with the outside world and gain access to all different kinds of information. They also suddenly have a chance to present themselves and their opinions.” While parents may not be able to directly change the political environment, there are other aspects they can influence. “When children are happy in their everyday life, they have healthy relationships with both family and peers; they feel satisfaction with one or more hobbies, are aware of their own skills and feel safe, they are more resilient to risks online and off. This way, their confidence will not be as vulnerable to the potentially negative effect of the technology,” Tomkova says. 

In many cases, technology can have an actually positive impact on a child’s self-esteem – especially if they encourage active use and creativity rather than passive content consumption. For instance, children who have trouble establishing relationships in the real life can find new friends online. While playing online games, children can show off their skills and feel like an important part of a team. On social media, children can build their own independent persona, presenting themselves and expressing their thoughts and beliefs – all with just a few clicks. “Just by pressing the ‘like’ button, children may demonstrate that they agree or disagree with something.

Social media apps also provides simplified instant feedback, which is very attractive during adolescence because teenagers´ self-esteem is very unstable and at this age, mostly external. They tend to compare themselves to the others a lot more than adults do. When they post something, the number of likes or comments immediately indicates what others think,” Tomkova suggests. The importance of social status and popularity, which is typical for this age, drives teens tend to check their feedback via social media rather impulsively, or even compulsively. They may become addicted to this kind of psychological reward.

This is, however, also why technologies can temporarily but rapidly decrease your child’s confidence. If their online posts are ignored or they receive negative reactions, they may feel like the online world, which is supposed to be full of options, hates them – or worse, does not even see them. In the worst case, hate speech and cyberbullying may be devastating for your child’s sense of identity and self-worth. 

Actively handling negative feedback

The power of negative feedback is undeniable, and for you as a parent, it is difficult to influence the way people react to your child online. What parents can do is talk about negative feedback with their children, establish the different ways they can react to such criticism, and discuss the boundaries between negative feedback and online harassment. “Before children join social media, they need to know what they may encounter there – including negative and often harsh comments. First off, we should discourage our kids from being mean to other people – online and off. We should also let them know that when people are being cruel to them for no reason, it is not their fault, but rather it shows the unresolved issues of people who mistreat others,” Tomkova explains.

The psychologist also suggests that we teach children to be active when they encounter negativity online: “Kids ought to know that they may always approach their parents or trusted peers, who can help them deal with the situation. If the feedback they receive online gets too harsh, they should print-screen it and show it to the people they trust. Parents should also teach their children how to report inappropriate comments and posts. When children know how to do these things, they feel more resilient and equipped.” 

Additionally, parents should also try to balance the potentially addictive happiness that comes with positive online feedback. Make sure your child feels happy and secure in their everyday life, and encourage them by positively commenting not only on their successes but also on the energy and determination they show. If the amount of positive feedback they get online and off is balanced, they are less likely to develop an addiction to the instant gratification of smart technologies.

All the happy faces online

But is it always true that when your child gets a lot of likes and positive comments, they will feel more confident? Jarmila Tomkova replies: “It depends on the way kids use the technology. For instance, it is not psychologically healthy for a child to spend more than one hour a day on social media. If they exceed this time, it does not matter what kind of feedback they get their confidence will diminish. Excessive use of the internet and social media is linked with increased depression and loneliness, and lower self-esteem.” This is why parents should discuss screen time with their children, set healthy boundaries and possibly employ parental control solutions that enable them to limit their children’s time on certain pages or apps. 

While social media is great for self-presentation, its content can sometimes be somewhat insincere. By setting up unreachable beauty standards and making everyone seem as super successful and always happy, social media can induce feelings of FOMO, or make your child feel “less than.” 

This is why it is important for parent to talk to their children about the benefits of social media, as well as its risks. Children need to know that the posts they see online are often highly stylized to make the poster appear perfect. It is natural – kids too would rather share a fun picture from a birthday party than a photo of them doing homework. However, children need to know that the world presented on social media is just one side of a coin. 

Being real can be a challenge!

Dare to question the polish of online content, and find fun in seemingly dull activities. As a family, creatively capture your day-to-day reality – be it grocery shopping, doing homework, or taking your pet for a walk. You can compare your creations with ones you would normally post, talk about the online persona we all tend to create for ourselves, and maybe even take the next step and share such unpolished content on your online profiles. After all – that’s where social media began in the first place.

Children also need to be taught that they are not just passive consumers of these standards and alternate realities – they themselves are the creators. “We should explain to children that when they post something online, they are influencing the people who follow them. By putting them in the active position, they can feel responsible – and, as a result, also more confident. Additionally, if they create a positive space for other people online, they may positively influence the confidence of their peers as well,” psychologist Jarmila Tomkova concludes.

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