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Let's Talk Facebook

July 01, 2017

For most of our sons and daughters, especially the tweens and teens, Facebook has become almost as essential as food, air and water. With adolescent identity development oriented so much around the peer group, Facebook and other social media are powerful vehicles mediating how our kids experience themselves within their social universe. Is the impact largely positive, negative, or neutral?

Researchers studying the impact of social media have found that women who wanted to change some aspect of their appearance — aren't teenagers notoriously self-critical about their looks? — reported being in a more negative mood after viewing Facebook compared to women exposed to a website without appearance-related content. In particular, viewing Facebook seemed to stimulate dissatisfaction with face, hair or skin.1

In another study, researchers found that the more time people spent on Facebook, the more symptoms of depression they reported, and the more they tended to compare themselves to others. Those who spent greater amounts of time on Facebook were more likely to make:

  • upward comparisons — comparing oneself to those who appear to be doing better — versus
  • downward comparisons — comparing oneself to those who appear to be doing worse.2

Yet another study found that after viewing Facebook profiles portraying others with very active social lives, or with very attractive photos and high social status (upward comparisons), people reported lower self-esteem and more negative opinions of themselves.3

Upward comparison has always occurred among peer-conscious adolescents, but social media provides abundant and ever-present opportunities to rate oneself against others. Can parents mitigate the unwelcome effects research has identified? Perhaps educating our kids about the pitfalls of upward comparison might inoculate them against some of those effects. We can talk with our sons and daughters about how people curate their online image to look good to themselves — and to their peers — and how that curated image is usually very different from reality. We can discuss how the impulse to look good in the eyes of others drives us to omit from social media our most disappointing, boring, and embarrassing moments. And we can occasionally ask to let us scroll with them through their Facebook feed together, offering a gentle but incisive running commentary about what we see, and especially what we don't. It's all part of educating them in how to be thoughtful and discerning consumers of the social media that permeates their lives. 

References & Citations
  1. Fardouly, J., Diedrichs, P.C., Vartanian, L.R., & Halliwell, E. (2015). Social comparisons on social media: The impact of Facebook on young women's body image concerns and mood. Body Image, 13, 38-45. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.12.002.
  2. Steers, M.N., Wickham, R.E., & Acitelli, L.K. (2014). Seeing everyone else's highlight reels: How Facebook usage is linked to depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(8), 701-731. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2014.33.8.701.
  3. Vogel, E.A., Rose, J.P., Roberts, L.R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206-222. doi: 10.1037/ppm0000047.