I took my teenage son recently to see Jurassic World Dominion. We were sitting in the theater in excited anticipation for yet another dinosaur vs. humans flick. A perfect father and son outing.
While waiting for the movie to start, a Dove commercial comes on the screen. We are used to commercials before the movie starts, yet this was a different kind of commercial.
Watching and listening to the "mothers" give beauty advice it quickly became apparent that these were messages no healthy parents would give their teenage girls. The advice touched on various things such as:
It showed influencer after influencer giving "beauty tips". There is a twist to this video that puts the influencers on social media and their messages about beauty in a different light. Check it out below.
The Influence of Social Media for Teen Girls
It's not usual to clap and cheer at what's on the screen BEFORE the movie starts. That's usually an end of the movie thing to do.
I didn't do that outwardly as I would have embarrassed my son, but inwardly I was celebrating this spot from Dove.
This topic is one that is near and dear to my heart. As teen therapists and young adult counselors, we see the negative impact that social media can have on teen girls. We work with the teenagers who struggle with:
It is not uncommon for social media to be a part of their story on how these things developed.
The Dove commercial addresses the influence social media has on teen girls. Specifically, it tackles how social media influences the definition of what "beauty" is and what one has to do to attain "beauty".
At the beginning of this commercial, we hear two mothers talk about their teenager daughter's social media use. There is an understanding that social media can be bad or it can be good and that they didn't believe social media was that influential.
As they together watch the influencers on social media give beauty tips, the tables are turned. The mother's faces and voices were superimposed over the influencers so it looked like it was the girl's parents giving them the beauty tips.
Watching and listening to the "mothers" give beauty advice it quickly became apparent that these were messages no healthy parent would give their teenage girls. The advice touched on various things such as:
How to starve yourself to get skinnier,
How to file your teeth down to be more appealing,
How you don't need to accept your thin lips, and
How to inject your lips with filler to make them plump
The message was clear: you are not beautiful as you are now! This is an emotionally toxic and false message to any teenager.
Instagram, Teenage Girls, & Body Image
Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article on leaked documents from Facebook. The New York Post indicated that these internal documents showed that Facebook found Instagram harmful to teen girls. Instagram can exacerbate body image issues, anxiety, and depression among teen girls.
From the internal research at Facebook, they found:
"Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,"
"Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression . . . and this reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups."
And this is just one of several social media platforms.
How Much Time Are Teen Girls Spending on Social Media?
In the beginning of the video above, a mother commented that she felt that social media was not a significant influence on her daughter, yet.
In 2019, Common Sense Media published a report on Media Use by Tweens and Teens. In this report, they found that:
"On average, 8-12 year old's in this country use just under 5 hours' worth of entertainment screen media per day (4:44)"
"By age 11, a majority (53%) of kids have their own smartphone, and by 12 more than two-thirds (69%) do."
"The average amount of time teens reports spending with social media each day was 1:10 minutes a day."
"The proportion of teens who say they use it "every day" increased from 45% in 2015 to 63% in 2019."
As parents, we convey messages of worth, value, intelligence, beauty, wholeness for the teenagers as they are and as they are. And as parents, we are up against influencers on social media that convey a very different message to teen girls.
Neuroscience, Teen Developmental Stages, & Social Media Use
There may be neurological, physiological, and psycho-social reasons why teenage girls may be susceptible to social media influencers. It has to do with what is going on with the brain and the stage of development the teens years bring on.
A study from 2015 from the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience identified a possible contributor to the increase in social media use. This study identified that social media increases the release of Dopamine and Oxytocin in the brain.
Dopamine is often referred to as the "pleasure chemical". This chemical in the brain creates "want". It has been found that social media use stimulates the part of the brain that released Dopamine. As Dopamine is released, it makes it much more difficult for teenagers to resist social media.
Dopamine is also the neurotransmitter that is released when a person uses drugs. The high they feel includes a massive dump of dopamine. This is a very powerful reward chemical in our brains.
Oxytocin is often referred to as the "cuddle chemical" of the brain. This study showed that Oxytocin levels can rise as much as 13%. This is the equal to the spike when a couple are getting married to someone they love.
Psycho-Social Development in the Teen Years
The brain for males is not fully developed until the age of 25. For females, the brain fully develops a little earlier around the age of 21.
During the teen years, the brain is on fire with growth and development. During this time of brain growth, as well as physical maturation, teenagers commonly experience levels of insecurity.
Combined with this insecurity, the brain drives the teenagers towards social acceptance and a desire to "fit in".
This is also a time where teenagers are developing their own personal identities and value system.
Dopamine, Oxytocin, & a Teenager's Psycho-Social Developmental Stage: Pulling it All Together
Social Media use releases powerful chemicals in the brain that drive pleasure, want, and social acceptance. The chemicals alone can keep teenagers returning for more of that pleasurable chemical.
The teen years are also a time where teenagers are seeking social acceptance and the desire to "fit in". Social media has influencers that "define" what beauty is.
During an age where insecurity is very common, suddenly we have teen girls with addictive chemicals flooding their brain and social media influencers telling them how to be valued or accepted.
What Can Parents Do to Help Their Teenage Girls?
As parents, it's important that we are actively involved in our teenagers social media use. This also extends to teen boys who more often are on YouTube, video games, or other online platforms.
1. Start With a Conversation With Your Teenager
Talking with a teenager about their social media use is sometimes similar to talking with a drug addict about their drug use. The response if very similar in their response is like you are taking away the very air they breathe.
But unlike drug use, most teenagers will respond to facts. It is indisputable that excessive social media or other online platforms is not good for them.
Being able to have open and honest communication around social media use and the potential harm that can occur is important. Not only presenting them with factual information and concerns, but also listening to them and how they view social media.
This is a time to highlight how you view your teenager to your teenager. Talk to them about their worth and value as an individual. Talk about the smarts they have and their intelligence. Their character and integrity and how important those things are.
Your teenagers are beautiful as they are not just for outward beauty sake, but because of the personality traits and characteristic that make them a unique individual. There is so much more to life than physical appearance yet that can be hard for some teen girls to understand.
2. Monitor Their Social Media Use
During the teen years, we know how important it is for teenagers to make and keep good friends. Friends with the same morals, values, and goals as your teenager and family have.
As a result, we are mindful of the friends they choose and who they hang out with. We often want to have a new friend over to the house so we can meet and get to know them. We may also want to meet the friend's parents.
If we are willing to take these steps for someone who could be highly influential on our teenager, why then would we not do the same thing for social media? I know some parents feel it's a violation of privacy. Whey then do we not apply that same reasoning to their friends?
Parents, monitor social media use. The people on social media that your teen girls are watching have the title of "influencer". It's a full-time job for many and they may not care the messages they put out there as long as it gets them the "likes" and advertisement dollars that they want.
3. Set Rules Around Electronics Use
It is very rare that a teenager who can charge their phone in their room isn't on their phone all hours of the night.
I suggested to a client to start charging their phone in a common area at night. The teen girl promised her parents that she was not on her phone when she was supposed to be sleeping.
Two weeks later, the parents caught her on her phone when she was supposed to be asleep.
Remember the chemicals that are released in the brain and the psycho-social developmental stage our teens are in? If they have access, they will use it.
Talk with your teenagers about a reasonable time where all electronics are put up for the night. You may have different hours on the weekdays than on the weekend or Holidays.
Parents should always have the final say but it's important that the teenagers are a part of this conversation.
Then, parents, it is CRITICAL that you follow through on ensuring these rules are adhered to. Teenagers can and will push limits to see if their parents will follow through. If they can get away with having their electronics past the hours they should, they will.
This doesn't mean they are bad kids, it just means they are normal teenagers. As parents, sometimes the hard part is follow through. A limit set is only as good as your ability to follow through.
Teen Counseling & Family Therapy Can Help
Starting out of the gate with the above suggestions when our kids start using electronics is ideal. Yet for many of us, our teenagers have been using social media and other electronic platforms for some time now.
We can provide support for parents in parenting around this complex issue. And we can help teenagers learn to develop a healthy relationship with themselves and around social media.
Things like teen depression, anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, body image issues, and low self-esteem do not have to linger. Finding a therapist who specializes in teen therapy can be the next right step.
Teen Therapy & Young Adult Counseling: Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Summertime means there is a lot of down time. One thing that can fill that downtime for many teenagers is social media and the use of electronics. There are findings that suggest things like anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, performance anxiety, depression, or other struggles can be tied to social media use.
If your teenager is struggling and you are ready to meet with a teen therapist, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Talk with or schedule a phone call with one of our Office Administrators
Let us help provide the help your teen or young adult may need and let us help support you as parents
Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide a variety of therapy approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Some of the teen therapy and young adult counseling we offer are:
Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy
Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)
Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)
Group Therapy for Teens
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling
It can be stressful parenting a struggling teen or young adult. More than anything we want to be able to help them. Sometimes couples may disagree about how to do so. This can inadvertently create stress in a relationship.
And there may be times where the actions of you or your spouse or partner has damaged the trust in your relationship. You want to reestablish the trust in a relationship you have worked hard for over the years.
Relationships are complex and take work. It can be helpful to have an objective, third party who is also experienced in marriage counseling and couples therapy. At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we also provide couples therapy and marriage counseling.
About the Author
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker - Supervisor (LCSW-S), Board Certified in Neurofeedback, EMDR trained, and a Certified Brain Health Professional through the Amen Clinics. He has provided therapy to teens and families since 2003 and is the Owner & Lead Clinician at Katy Teen & Family Counseling.
He specializes in leading teams of high performing therapists who also specialize in teen therapy, family counseling, and counseling young adults.
Jason is also a leader in the field of teen, young adult, and family counseling providing coaching and technical assistance to teen Residential Treatment Centers across the country.
Jason is also a regular contributor to various magazines and publications lending his expertise to various mental health related topics. You can check these articles out on our "Featured Articles" service page on our website.
If you are ready to start your counseling journey, you can email, call, or text us directly at:
Phone Number: 346-202-4662