This morning I came online to a number of posts about the Dove Self Esteem Project and in particular THIS Daily Mail article about how social media is destroying the self-esteem of young girls, and even causing Eating Disorders.
I really do support doing anything that improves the self-esteem and emotional health of young people – including Dove’s ‘No Likes Needed’ Campaign which aims to encourage young women to value themselves rather than have their self-worth dictated by social media. However (as usual) I think the general media are at risk of misrepresenting this issue and the campaign itself, by blaming social media for all that is wrong with the world.
To read the personal stories shared in the article of girls only feeling worthy if they get enough ‘likes’, and taking hundreds of pictures of themselves in order to get one that they feel happy enough with to be able to post and share certainly does pull at the heart strings. I’m sorry that they (and thousands of others) are struggling so much with their self-worth, but this problem is far deeper than ‘social media causes low self-esteem’.
If a girl with great self-esteem posts things online for her friends to see then we could expect mostly positive feedback – in fact, even if the girl had poor self-esteem, one would hope her friends and family would still have nice things to say! However, social media in all it’s guises has seen a rise in bullying and lots of us experience ‘hate’ online. However, this is NOT Facebook or Twitters fault. It is the bullies fault! Why are we not teaching all our young people care and compassion for others? Why does bullying get so bad that young people develop depression and are scared to go to school?
Taking a side step from the bullying issue there is also a more general problem at play here. Many of our young people feel the need to seek external validation because we simply are not teaching them to love themselves and to feel proud of what they achieve and who they are.
Having spent some time as a School Counsellor I have heard many young people struggling under the pressure to be ‘perfect’; that is pressure to get really good grades, to be socially exceptional and to be happy whilst doing it. This pressure is sometimes applied by teachers and parents, and sometimes is a self made pressure on the part of the young person (perhaps influenced by the media and friends), but it’s a system wide problem and no on can take all the blame.
Let’s be honest here – are YOU perfect? Do you excel at work every day, never fall out with friends and always get everything right? I know for sure that I don’t. Sometimes I have the emotional capacity to brush off a mistake or a bad day, but other days I ‘need’ something to help me feel better. I might reach for some chocolate, perhaps you reach for a glass of wine?
Now let’s not forget these young people who we are asking to cope with life, and live up to unreachable targets do not yet have fully developed brains. They are climbing mountains in terms of making sense of their own identity and of the world, and their thoughts, opinions and interests change on a weekly basis! It’s practically the job of a teenager to get things wrong in order to learn…. and yet they don’t seem to know this and rarely know how to cope if and when they don’t live up to ‘perfection’.
Perhaps in between maths and geography lessons we could be teaching good mental health practices – or ’emotional hygiene’ as I like to call it. Teaching our young people to love themselves, and to think more positively even when they fail at something. Teaching them to value kindness and forgiveness, and the art of conversation, and enabling them to have a happy future – whatever their future might look like! However, for MANY children and adolescents (and even for us adults!) the development of these traits and attributes are grossly overlooked.
It therefore makes absolute sense to me that young people with failing self-esteem would look for a quick and easy form of validation, but the problem is that in a perfection based world it is impossible for all of us to be ‘the best’, or to have the most ‘likes’. Our world can not keep spinning on this inane culture, something fundamental has to change, and it is a far bigger problem than such reductionism would lead you to believe.
So let’s listen to the intended messages of this campaign – lets help our young people to value themselves…on social media and in every other area of their lives! Let’s build up our next generation to be self-assured and confident.
Would love to hear your comments.