Essay: Social media and teenage self esteem

1.1 Theoretical approach
The relationship between social media and teenage self-esteem can be related to Bandura’s social cognitive theory which is based on human behaviour learned through the replications of other people’s actions and behaviours. The theory suggests that by observing others within the context of social interactions, experiences and media influences, which in this case would be the social media platforms, an individual’s knowledge is acquired (Van Lange, P, 2012). In this instance the focus is on the teenage population that regularly engage in social media activity and are exposed to material that could potentially influence their ‘behaviour’ which in this research would be their self-esteem and perception of themselves through what the social media platforms encourage them to believe about themselves (Van Lange, P, 2012).
Depending on whether or not the observer, in this case the teenager, are rewarded or punished for their behaviour they may choose whether or not to replicate their behaviour. In this research this theory relates to the relationship between social media and the self-esteem of teenagers as teenagers may feel that certain aspects of their social media platforms can boost their self-esteem and continue to replicate these actions such as posting a sensual picture on Facebook and gaining many likes and positive feedback for it; this boosts their self-esteem. On the other hand their self-esteem could be damaged in ways such as making a status or posting a picture and not obtaining the desired response or negative feedback could break their self-esteem too (Van Lange, P, 2012; Clarke-Pearson, K, 2011).
As the portal for online communication, entertainment and social interactivity has grown and continues to broaden, theories have developed around the topic of the relationship between social media and teenagers self-esteem. As teenagers are currently being raised in a digital age they have almost immediate access to their social media platforms and as these teenagers are still in their developing stages of learning they have little capacity for self-regulation nor a high level of emotional understanding. Because of this, teenagers are able to be influenced by their interaction with social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and due to this it can be suggested that teenagers are not fully aware that their self-esteem can be influenced by what social media exposes them too (Clarke-Pearson, K, 2011).
1.2 Review of previous literature
A previous study done on social capital, self-esteem and the use of online social networking sites by Steinfeld (2008), suggests that there is a need for further research on the role social networking sites on young adult’s psychological health and development. In the last 10 years studies have explored how the internet and social networking sites may be linked to the psychological and social well-being of adolescence and studies have shown that active and regular use of the internet is associated with loneliness, depression and even stress (Steinfeld, C, 2008). This phenomena was suggested to be because of online social networking ties considered to be becoming stronger than that of offline ties such as ties with family and friends in the flesh (Steinfeld, C, 2008).
The phenomena of social media being associated with a person’s psychological health relates to how a negative self-esteem can lead an individual to become socially anxious when having to deal with the personal confrontation of people they have real life relationships with and not just social media ties (Steinfeld, C, 2008). Teenagers may express a more introverted side to their personality when utilising these social media site regularly which explains the idea of the researcher’s proposal on social media linked to the self-esteem of teenagers (Clarke-Pearson, K, 2011).
Social media is suggested to cause a low self-esteem as these negative emotions such as depression, loneliness, stress and anxiety are all major contributing factors in building a teenager’s self-perception and these emotions express how they feel about themselves online as seen in what they post on their various social networking platforms as well as outside of the online world, such as their behaviours in real life situations (Steinfeld, C, 2008; Soltero, A, 2012).
This study also suggests that teenagers may feel that online networking sites are a safe haven where they feel most comfortable about themselves as they do not have to deal with real life environments and situations where they may feel these negative emotions, instead they feel safe online as it separates them from the outside world (Soltero, A, 2012; Steinfeld, C, 2008). This does not necessarily mean that these social media sites are boosting their self-esteem, it merely suggests that these networks create a barrier for dealing with reality and hence the proposal of a lowered self-esteem (Steinfeld, C, 2008; Soltero, A, 2012).
According to Danowski (2008), research done on predicting Facebook and offline popularity from self-esteem, this research suggests that social networking sites are widely thought to have manipulation over adolescents’ communication patterns with the real world and influences the way that they perceive themselves and their friends both online and offline (Danowski, J, 2008). Danowski looks into how psychological traits such as self-esteem and sociability may be associated with an individual’s popularity both online and offline (Danowski, J, 2008).
Relating to Steinfeld’s research above on social capital, self-esteem and the use of online social networking sites, Danowski suggests that individuals with a more positive self-esteem tend to be more extraverted, emotionally stable, confident in themselves and open to new experiences, whereas individuals with a lower self-esteem show more negative emotions such as feeling inferior, unworthy, anxious and lonely (Danowski, J, 2008; Steinfeld, C, 2008)
As we are currently embedded in a world of social media and living in a digital age we aspire to engage with information and social interactivity online as much as we do offline which suggests why the people with a lower self-esteem would want to attempt to gain more popularity on Facebook (Danowski, J, 2008). These individuals do this to enhance their self-perception and self-esteem off of Facebook as people value the opinions of their social media associates as much as they would in reality (Nair, M, 2011).
Teenagers having little capacity for self-regulation they are more easily influenced by their exposure to social media and their attitudes and opinions may be swayed by this too (Clarke-Pearson, K, 2011). Danowski depicts in his research that individuals gather their own beliefs and perceptions about themselves through what they are exposed to on social media and this may influence how they behave in various situations, how they identify and set goals, how they feel about their relationships and how they are able to adapt to new environments, which also suggests why teenagers would be striving for popularity and approval on their various social media platforms (Danowski, J, 2008).
Recent research done by De Vries (2015) can be related to both Danowski (2008) and Steinfeld (2008) as he uses Facebook as an example of one of the most popular social networking platforms to suggest that Facebook, along with other widely used social networking sites such as twitter and Instagram may lead to an impression for individuals to think that other people are achieving better things in life than they are according to what they see on their social media (De Vries, D, 2015). The psychological impact of constant practice of Facebook comparing ourselves with other peoples’ lives as viewed on social media, may lead to a negative social comparison which allows for the sensitivity towards ‘others being better than ourselves’ (De Vries, D, 2015).
In the questionnaire for De Vries’ research about the relationship between using Facebook and having a negative social comparison, the researcher discovered that the results depicted Facebook was in fact linked to the negative impact on social comparison of the population which connect to a damaged self-perception and self-esteem of these people (De Vries, D, 2015). Teenagers who have such a negative social comparison are enabling a negative perception of themselves and thus a negative self-esteem, and while teenagers are constantly engaging in social media activity this leaves them more likely to keep comparing their lives to what they see of their peers on social media (Nair, M, 2011; De Vries, D, 2015).
The study then looked further into the consideration of self-perception being affected by the original state of mind of these individuals, meaning that the self-perception and positive or negative self-esteem of the person could be impacted by the level of contentment of the individual when utilising Facebook (De Vries, D, 2015). The results suggested that the more fragile the person’s’ self-esteem the stronger the negative social comparisons were. This can be related back to Danowski’s research where the negative self-esteem of adolescents leads to feelings of unworthiness, inferiority, loneliness and anxiety which suggests that this could also be an indirect connection to the negative social comparison with other people’s’ social media profiles (De Vries, D, 2015; Danowski, J, 2008).
Similar research done by June Ahn in 2011, suggests that social networking sites have been discovered to have an impact on adolescents social development as the results suggest that these adolescents are being segregated from the fundamental social development skills based on their usage of the internet and social media platforms. This can also be related back to Steinfeld (2008), suggesting that social media is able to influence the younger generation’s psychological well-being. Individuals are separated from physically interacting with their family and friends because of their time spent online, and this study suggests that social networking sites impact negatively on individuals’ psychological well-being due to the internet being a superficial commotion (Ahn, J, 2011).
This being said, the researcher suggests that because, in many aspects, social media can be seen as one-dimensional, especially for young adults’ social development, it portrays a negative connection with the psychological well-being of teenagers as this social development is a major building block in their learning. As discussed before by Danowski (2008), it explains that in early adulthood the influences of the media and social media reflect on the self-perceptions and attitudes of individual (Danowski, J, 2008). The study further explains how physical relationships are disintegrating and the skills of social interaction are slowly fading away too. Recent studies have discovered that teenager interactivity between various social networking sites have proven to increase the self-esteem of frequent users especially in the youth category, because these frequent users seem to generate more friends and feedback on their activity such as wall posts, like and comments (Ahn, J, 2011).
The more positive feedback generated the higher the association with a positive self-esteem is which is suggestively associated with the individuals’ fulfilment with life. These outcomes focus on the fact that the utilisation of social networking sites does not directly influence the emotional state of a person’s’ psychological condition but instead suggests that the positive or negative responses given by the adolescents in their social media involvement portrays the crucial element in their social development (Ahn, J, 2011).
The social networking influence in the research done by Santos et al (2014), similar to that of Ahn and Danowski, specifically looks into Facebook interactivity and communication, and how it is able to impact on the feeling of social belonging, both positively and negatively, which in turn, is able to influence how people view their lives and the world around them (Santos, et al, 2014). The researcher also looked into Maslow’s theory of needs, specifically how respect and achievement play a major role in the development of a person’s self-esteem and confidence. As discussed before in the research by Danowski 2008, the achievement of likes and comments as positive feedback on social media encourages people to feel a sense of self-worth (Danowski, J, 2008; Santos, et al, 2014).
The researcher also explains how social media plays a role in active socialisation and having the ability to socialise with other people online (Santos, et al, 2014). This socialisation is able influence a person’s self-esteem by allowing them to feel that they have achieved attention and affirmation from their friends on social media, making them feel worthy and that they belong. This is seen as important to a person’s self-worth because the feeling of belonging to something shows that the person can be respected by others and that they are loved, which will determine how a person feels about themselves (Santos, et al, 2014).
The need to belong plays a large part in how social media increases self-awareness and self-presentation online. Facebook, Instagram and twitter all share the common feature of creating a user profile and research shows that due to the increase in selective self-presentation on social media, self-esteem can either be enhanced or reduced by people being incredibly self-aware when participating on these social media platforms (Santos, et al, 2014). This is because people want to be perceived in the best possible way on their social media because the better they portray themselves, the better they believe their feedback and responses will be from their friends (Santos, et al, 2014).

1.3 Conceptualisation
‘ Social media: The collection of communications on online channels and mediums that focus on sharing information, interaction and collaboration with others who share the same online social media medium (Rouse, M, 2015). For the purpose of this research the researcher will refer to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as different forms of social media.
‘ Self-esteem: This is a personality attribute and term used to illustrate a person’s sense of self-worth and personal significance. It also involves a person’s beliefs about themselves including their approval of what they look like, their emotions and behaviours (Reasoner, R, 2010).
‘ Facebook: Facebook is a popular online social networking platform designed for connecting and sharing with friends and family online. It allows registered users to create their own profiles, send messages and upload photos and videos on their profiles (Stroud, F, 2015).
‘ Self-perception: The self-knowledge and awareness of the characteristics attributed to one’s self. Self-perception suggests that people are able to develop attitudes and opinions towards themselves by observing their behaviours and then forming conclusions from this (Boyd, N, 2015).
‘ Twitter: Twitter is a social network microblogging service that allows for its users to broadcast and publish their ‘tweets’ which are visible to other users can be ‘re-tweeted’ and ‘favourited’ by other users on their twitter profiles (Walker, L, 2015).
‘ Instagram: A social networking site that allows for a mobile photo and video sharing service. It enables users to take pictures and videos and share them on their Instagram profile as well as other social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter (McLaughlin, E, 2012).
‘ Social comparison: This is a theory that suggest that people are able to determine their own personal and social worth based on how they measure themselves others by evaluating their personal attributes and beliefs in comparison to other people (Cherry, K, 2015).
‘ Psychological well-being: This refers to how people evaluate their lives according to their mental health. It is a measurement of happiness and contentment of being able to function with an optimal effectiveness in the person’s social and personal life (Winefield, H, 2012).
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