Common Sense Media estimates that the average adolescent spends nine hours a day consuming media for fun. On the other hand, those same teenagers speak with their parents for fewer than 10 minutes daily on average. Learn more about how you can help your teen with social media and why today’s media exposure damages teens’ body image!

Your teen will likely be exposed to thousands of overt and subtle signals about the “perfect” body throughout those nine hours of media intake. They may develop poor self-perceptions about their physical appearance and self-worth because of the unrealistic, unreachable ideals of beauty they see in the media.

What Teenagers See and Hear

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Stereotypically beautiful, skinny people are depicted as ideal in movies, ads, publications, social media, and websites. Models that are underweight or thin but voluptuous are all over the place, as are photographs of “beauty” that have been altered with Photoshop. Diet and beauty products convey the idea that being skinny and attractive (as defined by Western beauty standards) is the route to happiness and success.

Symptoms can appear as early as the second or third grade. According to a new study, children as young as three prefer game pieces depicting skinny persons over those depicting bigger ones. Nearly two-thirds of American girls have tried at least one diet before age 10.

The Internet of Things and the Search for Perfection

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Traditional media isn’t the only source of pressure on teenagers to be slender and beautiful. Social media may impact your teen’s body image more than anything else.

Addiction to peer-to-peer feedback on social media can be dangerous for people whose self-esteem is dependent on it.

media exposure damages teens'
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For many kids, social media is a quick and easy method to get feedback from their peers. Adolescent self-esteem issues may arise from multiple sources, including posting selfies on social media or viewing videos of other young people bragging about their “thigh gap.”

Some teenagers spend hours attempting to take the perfect selfie. Others use the number of Instagram likes on their most recent photo to indicate their attractiveness. Teens are frequently subjected to severe social media criticism and unpleasant comments. Teens’ self-esteem can be seriously harmed as a result of cyberbullying.

Effects of a Negative Self-Image

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Fat-loss deprivation might lead to health problems. Exposure to images of airbrushed female bodies has been related to unhealthy eating patterns and a lower sense of self-worth.

Having a negative self-perception of one’s body might have far-reaching effects. Eating problems are common in certain youths, but depression can also strike these young people. According to one study, girls who were unhappy with their attractiveness were more likely to commit suicide than those who were content with their appearance.

media exposure damages teens'
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Unrealistic media depictions of beauty affect people of all sexes. As young boys, they are bombarded with detrimental messages about their bodies from the likes of superheroes and action figures depicting unrealistic body types. 

Dieting or excessive exercise may be part of a teen boy’s quest for the ideal physique—people with a negative body image risk developing eating disorders and other mental health issues. More clear evidence that social media exposure damages our teens’ body image.

Media's Negative Effects: How to Minimize Them

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You can’t stop your teen from being exposed to harmful media pictures. Still, you can try to restrict their exposure and have a constructive conversation about these images with your teen anyhow. Your teen will be bombarded with idealized images of beauty because cellphones and other electronic gadgets have become more commonplace. You may, however, impart media literacy to your adolescent.

  • Discuss body image issues with your friends and coworkers. Physique acceptance and the beauty of each individual’s body are topics to discuss. Explain that essential aspects of a body are its capabilities and health, not its appearance and that pursuing a supposedly “perfect body” can be unattainable and unhealthy. Talk about how some people go to extreme lengths to achieve their desired body types.
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  • You should pay attention to what your teen has to say. Consult with them to learn more about their reactions to seeing such images in the media. Inquire about how they feel about their bodies. Help them sort out their emotions. If you’re experiencing issues with your body image or self-esteem, seek help from a doctor or a therapist.
  • Discuss marketing strategies. Examine the often shady methods used by advertisers to promote their goods. Be there to help your teen recognize hidden messages about how a product will make them seem better.
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  • Cite real-world examples. Talk about the messages you’re hearing and seeing on TV as a family. Discuss the unrealistic photos in the magazines you’ve seen.
  • Talk about these issues with your family regularly. This can help your teen build a positive self-image and lessen the influence of the media and social media on their lives and development.

The Count is in.

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Body acceptance at home might help shield your teen from the media’s constant barrage of negative body image messages. It’s impossible to avoid all the negative effects of seeing these images in the media, but talking about them and counteracting them with body positivity can help.

The bottom line, today’s social media exposure damages teens’ body image. And it’s our job as parents to teach our teens how to counteract it.