From the age of twelve to at least eighteen years of age, a girl is under constant scrutiny about her body, looks and sex appeal. We have advanced technologically, but we haven’t gotten any less harsh with the judgment and peer pressure girls feel and are up against. There is recent evidence that suggests that teens experience an increase in depression when they are frequently engaged with Facebook. It is not appropriate for kids under the age of thirteen to be on Facebook, and it can cause increased anxiety and depression with many teens, as it adds a constant “in your face” discussion involving what many teen girls worry about. Questions such as, “Am I pretty enough? Am I prettier than her? Am I more popular? Is my boyfriend cheating on me?”
The NetGirls Project set out to find just how damaging a prolonged exposure to the Internet can be on a young girl’s view of herself, and released its findings last week. Within the study they found correlations between excessive media use (excessive was described as more than 3.5 hours a day, but many girls are on 5 or more hours a day) and lower self-esteem, body esteem, and depression. The rates of depression and lower self-esteem were more evident with the girls on social media websites, which make total sense as they are the ones most exposed to constant photos and status updates. Dr. Amy Slater, from the School of Psychology at Flinders University in Australia, led the study, which surveyed 1000 girls between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Dr. Slater found the biggest worry was the girls being fearful of gaining weight and not having good enough bodies.
The most recent studies are not surprising in their findings. They found that the more time the girl spends on the Internet, the more significant the effects on her self/body esteem. The effects are deleterious and do not go away. Many of these girls carry their defeated body and self-esteem issues into their college years and beyond. If the teen’s family is not engaged with the teen, the Internet takes on a much more potent place in the teen’s world. In fact, it may become the child’s world.
Pediatricians are now encouraging parents to talk with their kids about being online and how to recognize depression and anxiety caused by the Internet. This is difficult for many parents, because anyone who has a teenage girl understands that “moodiness” comes with the territory. It may help parents to be aware of these signs though, and rather than try to cheer their daughter up, actually engage her in conversation. Ask her how you can help, listen to her, and talk with her, not at her.
Here are ten signs your teen may be depressed:
1. Loss of interest in activities, hobbies and other things they used to be very interested in.
2. More isolated–never see them with their friends anymore.
3. Sleeping all the time or up in the middle of the night because they cannot sleep.
4. A loss or increase in appetite.
5. Notable weight loss or gain.
6. Lethargic or flat mood.
7. More irritable or easily frustrated.
8. A downward trend in grades.
9. Not wanting to go to school.
10. Weepy, labile moods.
As a parent, if you note any of these moods for more than two weeks, it is time to take your daughter to the doctor. Kids feel more engaged with their Internet now than many of them do with their parents. This is a dangerous situation waiting to happen.
Most women would be intimated to post a photo of them on Youtube and ask viewers to rate their beauty. Could most adult women survive the honest, sometimes cruel and unforgiving comments made by strangers in regards to their looks? Most likely the answer would be “NO” (it hurts no matter who says a person is ugly or heavy or whatever else the audience may say). However, our kids are doing it, and the viewers are no less cruel than they would be with an adult with their comments. Young girls are fragile with their sense of self and beauty. They don’t have a well-established self-esteem because their self-esteem many times is built on what others say about them. I have yet to meet a patient who cannot tell me what someone said or did when they were five or six that hurt their body image and self-esteem. In fact, they may tear up when they recount the story in my office. How can any of us deny that what our girls are seeing every day on the Internet or within their social media page is affecting them and their view about their body?
Most girls struggle with being popular, feeling pretty enough, and feeling good about their friends and academic achievements. What is important to understand is how a girl feels at the ages of 12 through 16 has a lasting effect on how she will feel at the age of 25 or possibly 30. If we want women to be empowered and feel confident to be a loving partner, mother, and/or career woman, perhaps spending more time engaging with her as a teen would help. This will become more difficult if we don’t talk to our kids about what they are viewing on the Internet, and continually pull them back to their real life and family. The Internet has so much to offer our young girls, but left unsupervised and unengaged with the family, it can become another source of lowering girls’ self-esteem and worth.
It’s a new world out there for parents as much as children. Get involved. Talk to your kids. Visit the sights they are visiting. Let them know you are there when they need you. The teen years are a relatively short amount of time, but decisions made during this time can change both you and your child’s life forever. It is easier to make healthy choices in life if you feel good about yourself.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.