“Who am I?” “Where do I fit in?” Adolescence has always been a profound time of self exploration and identity formation – how has the advent of social media and digital technologies for communication and self-representation changed how youth navigate who they are and how they feel about themselves? What are the risks and opportunities for forming a positive and healthy sense of self in a hyper-connected age?
Join us on Wednesday November 1, 2023 from 12pm-1:30pm ET for our next #AskTheExperts webinar “Youth Self-Esteem and Identity: The Media(ted) Self.” A panel of psychologists, researchers, and parenting experts will explore social media’s impact on adolescent self-concept and self-presentation, considerations for specific racial and gender subpopulations of youth, and tips for parents and caregivers on how to foster youth resilience in the face of social comparison and other unique online pressures that may impact healthy self-esteem and identity.
Adriana Manago, PhDAssociate Professor of PsychologyModerator
Linda Charmaraman, PhDSenior Research Scientist; Director
Elizabeth Daniels, PhDProfessor and Director
Lauren McInroy, PhDAssociate Professor of Social Work
Chia-chen Yang, PhDAssociate Professor of Educational Psychology
[Kris Perry]: Hello and welcome to today’s Ask the Experts Webinar. Youth Self-esteem and Identity The Mediated Self. I am Kris Perry, executive director of Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. As our world becomes more digital and children begin interacting with screens and media at earlier ages, you may be wondering what role do device mediated experiences play in the development of identity, self, and esteem throughout childhood? How do different platforms, activities or a youth’s own identities shape these experiences? Developing a strong sense of self and establishing confidence in that identity is a fundamental part of growing up. Today, we have brought together a panel of experts to discuss this important developmental process in the context of the digital world. They will address new opportunities and risks specific to digital media, healthy digital habits to promote positive identity development and unique considerations for diverse youth. Unfortunately, our original moderator is not able to join us today due to illness. However, we still have a very informative session planned for you. Stepping in as moderator is Dr. Linda Charmaraman. Linda is a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, where she founded and directs the Youth Media and Wellbeing Research Lab. Her research interests include social media and adolescent health, digital citizenship methodologies to target hard to reach populations, and how social identities, for example, race as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and political beliefs affect wellbeing. She is a social media expert consultant with the Jed Foundation and has provided research consulting for a pilot Instagram initiative to improve youth well-being. Welcome, Linda.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Thank you so much for having me here today, and I am pleased to be able to step in and to read Dr. Manago’s eloquent introduction that she had already planned for this webinar to share with you here today. Identity is one of, if not the most important topics in psychology. It is the Foundation for Psychological well-being and also an endlessly fascinating, complex and mysterious phenomenon. One of the founders of psychology, William James, described himself as both an object that is known what he called the me self and a subject that perceives, interprets, decides and acts. What he called the I self. In other words, identity is our beliefs and feelings about who we are, which then constitute working models in our psyches that create our subjective sense of awareness. In short, how we understand ourselves ends up mediating our entire experience of reality. Profound stuff. Our mental representations of ourselves are not cold and dispassionate, of course, but instead intricately intertwined with our emotions and evaluative judgments. We feel bad or shame about who we are or feel pride and satisfaction about who we are. Global self esteem defined as overall feelings about ourselves and our worth is a potent predictor of psychological well-being, life satisfaction and overall adjustment in the research, which I should note has been primarily conducted in Western countries. In addition, feelings of self efficacy, agency and self-determination qualities of the I self, reflects a person’s sense of being able to influence control, be responsible and accountable for their actions and experiences. Self-efficacy is important for psychological well-being because it is associated with resilience. The ability to adapt and be successful in the face of adversity, which is inevitable in life. Identity development begins in our earliest experiences of attachment with our caregivers. Infants who experience social synchrony, body contact and caregivers sensitivity to their signals form internal working models of the self as lovable and other people as loving. This internal working model then guides their experiences of themselves with other relationships as they grow. We know that parental acceptance during childhood, including affection, warmth and indications of personal importance, promote positive self-esteem and development. Furthermore, parents can help children develop feelings of agency, self-efficacy and self-determination by respecting children’s individuality, balancing space for the self expression and personal preferences, while also setting limits, encouraging realistic goal setting and providing accurate feedback. Adolescence is a critical period in identity development when youth begin to focus on a purpose in life and who they are in society during this period, psychological well-being and adjustment rests on youth’s ability to integrate the increasing complexity of themself definitions and differentiated selves across contexts as they move into the broader world and navigate more variegated and potentially conflicting and contradicting environments. Autobiographical storytelling, exploration of possible selves and commitment to culturally meaningful adult roles are understood to be central processes in constructing a coherent sense of self that is stable and purposeful in the transition to adulthood. Failure to integrate differentiated selves can lead to unresolved contradictions and lack of clarity in self understanding, which is associated with anxiety, lack of purpose, learned helplessness and low levels of self-assertion in social situations. However, in the process of adolescent identity development, there’s also tension between flexibility and stability that youth must negotiate. On the one hand, being certain and consistent in one’s identity is associated with feelings of security, stability and well-being. But we also know that for self-growth and maturation to occur, you need to be open to learning from feedback, adjust to multiple perspectives and adapt to a constantly changing world around them. Peer group, belonging and friendships also become important sources of self-understanding and growth in adolescence. And the key here is for you to find a sense of authenticity in their relationships. That is a sense of themselves as acting in a way that is consistent with the inner beliefs, values, desires and dispositions. When youth experience their self-expression and behavior as self authored, they feel a sense of self determination that is so critical for a healthy sense of self. Achieving authenticity will be easier for youth with more privileged identities compared to ethnic, racial, sexual and gender minority youth. For youth with socially oppressed identities, dominant ideologies and narratives, not to mention stigmatization and oppression in mainstream culture, can negate their inner feelings and perspective and fail to provide them with positive role models of what is possible in their identity development. So how does social media fit into all of this? Well, that is what we are going to tackle in today’s webinar. It is useful to think about social media as cultural tools that transform identity development by introducing new affordances for behavior or possibilities for action in the digital world. Although social media are often conceptualized as causes of behavior in mainstream discourse, and listeners are active agents in their socialization, using social media as tools to engage in developmental processes such as autobiographical storytelling, exploration, commitment, peer belonging, etc. specific features of communication in different platforms such as visualness, asynchronicity, replicability and anonymity transform the processes by which youth construct their identities by introducing new opportunities and risks for which youth construct their identities. Today’s youth have expansive multimedia tools at their disposal to construct a story of who they are and what they believe to experiment with different facets of their identities anonymously and learn about different perspectives through vast networks of information flows. But these tools also facilitate upward social comparisons to manicured digital self-presentations. While the replicability and scalability of digital self expressions can magnify dramas of peer group dynamics making them more widely shared following youth home from school. It is my pleasure to talk about and introduce these panelists who will attempt to grapple with these nuances presenting scientific findings about social media, transforming identity development, and offering insights into how we can intervene to empower diverse youth in their use of these multimedia tools. Now, with this powerful introduction that Dr. Manago had prepared, I have tremendous pleasure introducing our first speaker. Dr. Chia-chen Yang is an associate professor of educational psychology at Oklahoma State University. Her research focuses on the psychosocial development of young people in the digital age. Specifically, she studies the use of communication technologies by adolescents and emerging adults and the associations between the use of technology and young people’s identity development, social relationships and socio-emotional well-being. Welcome, Dr. Yang.
[Dr. Chia-chen Yang]: Thank you Dr. Charmaraman. Hi. I’m Chia-chen Yang. It’s a great pleasure to be here today. I will be talking about social media and self-esteem and identity development, and I’ll talk about identity in a broad and general sense that includes having a clear and positive sense of self and having low identity confusion or distress. And I think other presenters today will talk about identity in a more nuanced manner. So we know that social media presents both opportunities and risks some ways of social media use facilitate, whereas others undermine identity development. And my goal today is to share a framework that adults and teens can use to quickly assess whether their social media use might be adaptive or maladaptive. Now, even though this is not a perfect or comprehensive model, it should serve as a good starting point for that assessment. Now, let’s break down this model. Roughly speaking, we can divide social media activities or usage into three categories. Interactive use is also known as directed communication, where there’s some kind of back and forth exchange. Messaging and texting are the best examples. Active use is also known as broadcasting or posting where the posted content is accessible to a large audience. And finally, passive use is also known as content consumption and browsing. Messaging and texting are usually related to higher self esteem and positive identity outcomes. And that’s because young people feel like they get the social support they need. After texting and messaging their friends. Now, understandably, if teens receive mean messages or harassment, that’s related to negative identity outcomes. But the good news is that when scholars simply ask teens to report the frequency of messaging and texting and correlate that frequency with identity outcomes, we see a reasonably consistent positive correlation. So that suggests that most teens seem to be engaging in positive, encouraging and supportive peer interaction online. The implications of active use or posting are contingent upon what people post online. Positive and authentic self-presentation where people share positive, and authentic self information usually is related to higher self-esteem and positive identity outcomes. And that’s because these practices direct people’s attention to the personality traits and experiences they enjoy or embrace. And these practices can be especially important for minority youth because these practices can be validating and empowering. And research shows that when people post positively and authentically, they receive more encouraging feedback from their social media network. In contrast, intimate self-presentation where people share highly personal and private information, tends to be a double edged sword. On the one hand, the posters do feel like they get the social support they need after sharing such information. But at the same time, they can become self-conscious about how such information might be judged by their social media friends. And not to mention the risk that this information could be abused by their social media network. Now, a few seconds ago, I just emphasized the benefits of positive self-presentation. But teens should be careful not to become a perfectionist when it comes to self-presentation, because when they feel like everything they post online has to be flawless and perfect, then posting becomes a risk factor for problematic social media use and lower self-esteem. Finally, passive use or browsing is usually related to lower self-esteem and negative identity outcomes. And the main reason is because when we browse, it’s easy for us to want to compare ourselves with other people. Now, even though social comparison is not inherently a bad thing, the problem of social media, social comparison is that people are being selective in terms of what they post online. So when we compare ourselves with our social media friends, we’re essentially comparing our real life with a snapshot of other people’s lives. And that’s not a random snapshot. That’s an edited and polished snapshot of their lives. So it’s easy to feel like we’re less than or inferior to other people. For minority youth, browsing can also expose them to discrimination. And even if that discrimination is not targeting the teens themselves, it’s still terribly hurtful when it’s targeting the social groups they belong to. Now, a silver lining here is that young people also use browsing to seek the information they need to identify similar others and locate identity based groups for social support, all of which then solidify their identity and protect their self-esteem. So this is a visual summary of the model I just introduced. Now, what can we do to support young people’s identity development specifically in youth development more generally in the digital age? I think the key element is to help teens develop social media literacy, which refers to the ability to effectively and safely create content, critically evaluate content, and understand the implications of one’s own and others media behavior. And I have three recommendations we could use to hopefully achieve this goal. First, share with teens what you’ve learned about social media from this webinar or any other presentations you’ve been to. A lot of times when we talk to teens about social media, we focus on the dangers, the things we don’t want them to do or restricting their social media use. And even though those conversations are important, especially in some context, that shouldn’t be the only thing we talk about because social media is not going away and simply telling teens what not to do doesn’t fully prepare them for the complicated digital world they’re facing. So it’s important to help teens identify and distinguish healthy versus unhealthy social media use. And I hope the model I just introduced provides some information there. Number two, talk to teens about their digital media experiences. We can ask teens questions like what’s going on on social media these days? What do you think about that? How does that make you feel? And what do your friends think of that? From those conversations, we can get a basic idea of whether our teens are reaping the benefits of social media and whether some kind of intervention or guidance should be provided. And finally, encourage teens to monitor their psycho emotional reactions to various digital media behaviors. Teens are the ones who are directly impacted by their social media experiences, so they should be checking in with themselves frequently. They should ask themselves questions like How do I feel after texting and messaging my friends? How do I feel about posting this video or that photo on my social media? How do I feel about the comments or likes I got or the ones I didn’t get? And how do I feel about browsing this video or that photo for the activities that bring them a sense of joy, connection, and positive sense of self? As long as those activities do not interfere with your daily routine, it’s okay to continue doing those activities. However, for the ones that consistently trigger negative emotions and poor self-concept, that’s a warning sign they should be aware of. That’s the moment they should tell themselves. I need to discontinue this practice. I think that’s all the time I have. I look forward to our discussion.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Thank you so much, Dr. Yang, for your your wonderful presentation and those wonderful, helpful tips on social media literacy and how parents can can really help guide youth and in telling them what to do and not just what not to do. Going back to your your section about passive versus active active use. You said that there are some caveats within each of those types of activities and affordances on different sites. Are there any social media platform differences that you might have for our audience to kind of know what is the difference between Instagram and TikTok and Reddit and those sites that might lend itself to more of a passive or active use?
[Dr. Chia-chen Yang]: Yeah. So we do know that many different media platforms offer different features, and sometimes we use the term affordances, which would invite people to do something more than others. So one thing we know, and I think our next presenter, Beth, will talk more about this is that when the platforms are more visual, like Instagram or Tik Tok versus the more text based platforms and the more visual ones tend to induce more social comparison, especially social comparison in relation to appearance. And those kind of social comparisons can be unhealthy because it’s related to lower self-esteem and lower body image and more negative identity outcomes. So there’s part of that. And also, I should say I was focusing on just one side of social media use, but social media is a multidimensional concept. So, you know, the model talks about activities and now, Lynda, your question features on media affordances. But there are other things we need to consider, for example, motives or motivation. One thing we know is that if young people use social media more for social reasons to maintain existing social networks, it’s usually related to positive well-being and development outcomes. But if they use it simply because it’s a habit, they’re not being very planful, it’s a little goalless simply because it’s habitual or because they use it out of FOMO or as a way to escape from the reality that they’re unhappy with, without really resolving those real life issues. Then in that case, social media use tends to be related to negative outcomes. So yeah, social media is a dimensional construct and there are a lot of things we need to consider.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Thank you so much for clarifying and giving us more context, Dr. Yang. Next up, we have Dr. Elizabeth Daniels, who is a professor and director at the Center for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England. She earned her PhD in developmental psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research examines body image and sexual objectification. Take it away.
[Dr. Elizabeth Daniels]: Thanks very much. I am going to be talking about self-esteem, body image, and social media. So one of the most powerful predictors or contributors to self-esteem is actually how we feel about our physical appearance. So that makes understanding. Physical appearance concerns a really important endeavor because it matters for overall psychological well-being. Okay, I am having trouble advancing my slides. That is unfortunate. Lets see? Ah here we go. So where do we learn about appearance? An influential theory put forward suggests that it’s family, peers and media that are powerful socializers. In terms of what we think about physical appearance with media, in particular social media is interesting because children are exposed to media well before they engage with social media. So we want to think about these influencers a little bit differently. But when we think about media in general, we want to be clear that there are a lot of factors that shape how we are affected by media. So it’s not just that media washes over us in some kind of universal way, but instead a variety of factors including age, gender, race, ethnicity as well as motivations as our previous speaker mentioned, why we’re using social media, for instance, or any type of media and our own predispositions. So in terms of body image, some individuals are more attuned to information around appearance than others are, and they take that predisposition into their social media use. So this makes it really complicated, though, to think about, well, how do we make recommendations? Because we can’t say that one size fits all. And while we know that social media can be really problematic in some ways, we can’t make one sort of sweeping solution because of these differences based on us as individuals and how we use media. Okay. So that being said, I want to spend the rest of my time talking about patterns that we know from research findings that tell us how social media can be more problematic for body image, as well as what might be helpful. So as you might expect, accessing social media at younger ages tends to be problematic. Younger kids have fewer cognitive capacities to critically evaluate media. So getting on social media when you’re younger is not a great idea. And when I say younger, that’s also a little bit squishy because you may have a child who is a little bit more mature at a given age than another child, but we can sort of pinpoint about 12 or 13 as being, you know, under 12 or 13 as being too young as our previous speaker just mentioned. Using highly visual social media like Instagram and Snapchat, Tik Tok tend to be more problematic than more text based platforms like Facebook or Twitter slash X. Being immersed in beauty culture on social media. So following beauty influencers, watching lots of makeup tutorials as well as following and interacting with then Thinspiration, Fitspiration or similar appearance focused content tend to be problematic, and that’s because they can become essentially training grounds for using social media in appearance focused ways. So that would be liking, posting, commenting on idealized appearance focused content. And while doing that, you’re training algorithms, but that’s what you want to see. And then you in turn take on that sort of world view that those are the images of beauty or that is what I should be striving to achieve. So the extent to which youth are really heavily engaged in that appearance focused content can be problematic for their own body image. Similarly, taking, editing and using filters on selfies frequently tends to be problematic because again, you’re sort of creating a very stylized portrayal of yourself and kind of reinforcing this idea that you would need to meet a narrow standard of beauty. Engaging in social comparison, as our prior speaker mentioned frequently on social media also tends to be problematic because that content they’re seeing that we’re seeing on social media is again stylized and curated. So if I’m constantly comparing myself to very particular images, I probably come out feeling worse about myself in the end. In addition, kind of a similar idea is that if I base my concept of beauty on what I’m seeing on social media and internalize that, I tend to also feel more badly about myself. So we know that these are various ways in which engaging with social media tends to be problematic for body image. But we also want to remember that people, youth are bringing their preexisting attitudes towards their body onto social media. So for instance, if you have a child who’s already showing body dissatisfaction and other body image issues as that is a sort of red flag, if you will, that putting them, allowing them to engage on social media might actually amplify some of those preexisting issues and should be something that’s really carefully thought about. So fortunately, we do have some good news as well, although you’re probably noticing that this slide is a little bit shorter than the prior slide. We know far more from a research perspective about what is problematic in terms of social media and body image than what is helpful. So social media literacy, as our prior presenter mentioned, does tend to equip kids with tools to critically evaluate images that they’re seeing. Right. So to be able to say that is an image that’s possible through the company that is paying lots of money for a stylized model to sell their products on social media, engaging with positive body content tends to be helpful for body image. So this would be engaging with media that shows diverse body shapes and sizes and models and people from various cultural backgrounds. And similar to the flip side of that, where I was talking about appearance focused content, more traditional appearance focused content, engaging with body positive content can be a training ground as well. So the extent to which I like and comment and post myself more diverse images of beauty is training my algorithms as well. And so I’m not getting a very narrow perspective on bodies, instead I’m getting a more expansive understanding and perspective on what is beautiful. Something that we call digital pruning is helpful as well. We’ve seen this more specifically with adult women, but we can think about it for for younger women as well. Unfollowing, blocking or muting accounts, users and sites that depict narrow, unrealistic standards of beauty can be really helpful in protecting users own body image. And then we know from a little bit of experimental research that taking a brief fast from social media where you’re also being supported within a group of other people taking this fast as well just for a few days can be helpful for body image. And I want to note that this is something that could be used within a classroom context, a sport team, some kind of extracurricular activity club pretty readily. So I really like this idea of suggesting or organizing kids to take a brief break from social media together because it can restore them in terms of body feeling good about their bodies and then finally having a robust positive view of the body before getting into social media can also be protective. So appreciating the body, feeling good actually in your own body, those can buffer the negative effects of seeing more idealized body image content and threats to body image that might occur through social media engagement. So I think that’s my time and I will stop there.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Thank you so much, Dr. Daniels, for your discussion and and how you introduced the pros and the cons of the social media world on body image of our youth. And I’m just wondering, I guess there’s so much like, how do we communicate to girls about body image when there’s so much power involved there being beautiful and sexy on social media? And I wonder if adults might appear to be out of touch or irrelevant to the beliefs and values that these teens are already negotiating in their cultural worlds. What would you say to parents and caregivers?
[Dr. Elizabeth Daniels]: Yeah, I will absolutely say this is very difficult and you are completely correct that there is a pretty narrow standard for what is considered beautiful out there in our culture, and it’s pretty unattainable for most people. Average bodies are not what we see in our media environments. And so girls are constantly inundated with that content as well as social messages telling them that their appearance is the most important thing about them. So this is a very tricky dynamic, and I think it’s unrealistic to suggest that individuals can just shut this all out. There are some things we know that are helpful, though, including rather than focusing on aspects of the body that are not modifiable. You cannot change your height. You cannot change your bone structure right. Instead focusing on fashion and personal style. Those are things that are under our control. So as you’re having conversations about beauty and appearance, this is a way to kind of divert that conversation into a bit of a more productive stream. But at the same time trying to build more robust sense of of body image outside of the media environment. And we know that things like sport involvement or physical activity involvements can be protective. That’s not a panacea. There are some caveats. There are other things like having a self compassionate view towards the self right, that we’re all human, we all have anxieties around body image. This is not just something you’re experiencing and taking a kinder perspective on the self tends to help, but it’s a complicated issue and I could probably do a whole separate webinar getting into some of the these ideas, but I think I’ll hand it back to you now.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Excellent. I mean, self-compassion is definitely a goal for not just youth but all of us. Yeah, on social media for sure. All right. Thank you so much. Dr. Daniels now and I’m here to introduce our next distinguished speaker. Dr. Lauren McInroy is an associate professor of social work at the Ohio State University. Lauren’s a multidisciplinary research leverages Internet enabled information and communication technologies to examine LGBTQ plus youths Internet based activities and communities, develop, implement and evaluate digital interventions for the population and better prepare emerging practitioners and researchers to effectively engage with the population in digital content. Thank you so much for joining us.
[Dr. Lauren McInroy]: Thank you for the introduction. So today I am going to be building on some of what the first two speakers spoke about, looking particularly at LGBTQ plus youth and their use of social media, looking at risks and opportunities. And so what we do know about LGBTQ plus youth is that they experienced increased risk for negative health and mental health outcomes across the board, and that includes lower self-esteem. What we also know is that these risks and poor outcomes are even greater for trans and gender diverse or gender expansive youth in particular. We also know that LGBTQ plus youth may the evidence is indicating that they do use the Internet and social media at higher rates than their non LGBTQ plus peers, so that is their heterosexual and cisgender peers. We also know from the literature that LGBTQ plus youth experience particular challenges in online and social media environments. They are certainly at higher risk for cyberbullying and online harassment, and they also, as was alluded to in the previous presentations, speak experience significantly more digital microaggressions just in their day to day navigation of online environments. So this is just a sample of the types of microaggressions, or you could argue macroaggressions that LGBTQ youth experience, for example, on a very positive post a young person did. Non-binary isn’t a real gender, right? So youth are seeing these kinds of micro and macro aggressions in online spaces as they navigate social media. I recently did a study on online negativity called the On Study. We asked, we did a case study and we we showed young people a series of different social media posts from different platforms that were representative of anti LGBTQ plus microaggressions. And we asked youth immediately after viewing them, How do these posts make you feel mentally and emotionally? These are some of the youth’s responses sad, stressed, worthless, depressed, anxious, annoyed, misunderstood, and disappointed and very familiar with seeing this from family and peers. We also asked these young people how these posts made them feel about being an LGBTQ plus person. Sad. Ashamed. Made me wish I was straight. Reminds me that I’m going to face this a lot more in the future and on the more positive side feeling they can stand up for their community, but also feeling under pressure. So what we do know from the literature is that LGBTQ youth are certainly at higher risk online, at higher risk of poor outcomes and of discrimination and victimization and violence in online environments. However, what’s often left out of this conversation is that they are also at higher risk in their offline lives, at home, at school, and in their communities. They are LGBTQ youth are universal, fully at higher risk regardless of if that is in their offline or online environments and what online environments offer LGBTQ plus young people is a lot of supportive opportunities and contexts that many youth don’t have access to offline, right, Because their families are not supportive, their schools are not supportive, their communities are not inclusive. They don’t have access to LGBTQ resources, agencies. The Internet can sort of begin to fill that gap for many LGBTQ young people. The Internet is a relatively when we’re talking about safe spaces relative to their offline environments, a safer and more anonymous space for them to engage in very important developmental tasks, which include developing and rehearsing their LGBTQ identities. Right? So coming to understand who they are and label themselves. The Internet offers a lot of opportunities to do that in different kinds of ways for LGBTQ youth specifically. They’re also able to build communities of like young people and to access particular kinds of social support. They are able to acquire identity and help, particularly health information. We know sexual health information that’s provided to young people is varies in its quality and typically does not include LGBTQ identities. So young people need to be able to access information that is accurate. They’re also able to access resources and services. There’s a growing number of digital interventions for LGBTQ young people and different kinds of online services. The Trevor Project is an example that are available to LGBTQ young people to help meet their health and mental health needs when they don’t have access offline. So really, digital activities for LGBTQ youth. What’s typically thought of, for example, as escapism, escapism into technology is often conceptualized as as a negative thing. But for LGBTQ youth, technology can really offer important opportunities for psychological and emotional respite and allow you to sort of temporarily escape from the stressors they experience. And what’s really important to understand, particularly for LGBTQ young people in their lives, their online communities are no less real to them than their offline environments. Their friends online are just as real to them as their friends at school. And really understanding the community shouldn’t be considered less influential simply because their technology based and not real life based. So a really key aspect for LGBTQ youth when it comes to online participation is around representation and how seeing yourself represented in media impacts your self-esteem, your identity development. So what we do know is while there is an increasing number of LGBTQ plus representations in mainstream legacy media like television, movies, books, there’s a growth in LGBTQ representation. But what we know is that there are not enough representations, and those representations continue to be largely one dimensional and very focused on LGBTQ identity. So youth are not experiencing sort of multi-dimensional representations of sexuality and gender that also intersect with other identities they might hold. So for LGBTQ youth, their participation in online media, particularly things like online fandom community, is an online gaming environments. It really fosters the opportunity for them to to relatively anonymously explore their identity, rehearse important key developmental tasks that are just not safe for them to for them to engage in in their offline environments and to access, as I said before, support. So what and what the literature is indicating is that these more complex, realistic representations that are also more frequently produced by youth themselves in their online environments may actually increase the complexity of youth’s identification and to some degree expedite their identity development and coming out process. So as an example, YouTube videos around positive experiences of being LGBTQ, what to expect as an LGBTQ young person, where to go to access LGBTQ specific media. There are lots of different this is Reddit, but there are lots of different online communities on various social media platforms that where young people can LGBTQ young people can share themselves and their identities with other LGBTQ young people. There again, talking about representation, they’re able to take mainstream media and remix it into something that represents themselves and represents their identities an example of Adventure Time fan art, My Little Pony fan art, right? Seeing LGBT, seeing more complex and intersectional LGBTQ representation in online media. Another example looking at gender and gender expression specifically and again, examples of many queer characters in games that I think is it for me. And thank you so much.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Thank you so much. Dr. McInroy. I, I love those images and all those online resources that people can you know go to for exploring their identities and the coming out process, which is so, so you know painstaking in some LGBTQ communities. I’m so glad you also pointed out the risks to these LGBTQ youth who are also that are also offline, but they don’t have the resources that the online environment can actually provide. And there’s this big study that that came out that showed that LGBTQ youth are more likely to be, quote unquote addicted to social media compared to heterosexual counterparts and these apps can be a lifeline for sexual minority youth. But does that mean that they’re addicted? You know, like they were saying that maybe we shouldn’t intervene in the study. They kind of propose that maybe we should recommend them to be on social media less frequently. But I worry about cutting them off of their resources. You know, how can we approach this this issue?
[Dr. Lauren McInroy]: I think that is an extremely important point. I think we often conceptualize more use as problematic, right? And I think particularly for young people who are accessing crucial resources and opportunities online, we should look at what kind of use. Right. Going back to what the first presenter was speaking about, looking at what kind of use youth are engaging in and if it is benefiting them or perhaps not benefiting them. Right? So because LGBTQ youth may struggle, for example, with friendships in their offline lives, right? Or with family connections, they get a lot of that socialization and social support online. So it makes sense that they spend more time online. Right? I think another key aspect as well in terms of the recommendations, I haven’t read that particular study, but in terms of the recommendations, right to decrease their use is many of the recommendations for sort of safer online engagement can actually cut LGBTQ youth off from their resources. Right? That are offered online. So, for example, folks may talk about wanting parents to be very engaged in youth Internet based activities. Right. That makes a lot of sense. But for LGBTQ youth who aren’t out right, who haven’t disclosed their sexual and gender identity to their families and who fear and hostile or negative reaction, that co-viewing actually cuts them off from really crucial and in a lot of cases, life saving resources. So I think it’s a little bit about pulling apart some of these some of these recommendations and thinking about sort of the intersectionality of young people and their engagement in technology.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Thank you so much for for your thoughts on that very kind of blurred boundary type of a statement. It’s so hard to know what is the best course of action for our our vulnerable youth of today. So. Well, thank you so much for joining us. And and it turns out that it’s it’s my turn to to share my work that I want to talk about today that is going to be about minoritized youth and their online environments and in so many different ways. A lot of these themes kind of run, you know, there’s a thread that runs through a lot of these, you know, populations. And I’m also going to reference the recent American Psychological Association Task Force that issued an advisory on social media mental health in young people in which I was a coauthor on and which you can also access yourself as, you know, parents and caregivers and anybody interested in learning more about social media, that that’s the advisory right there on the bottom left. And I wanted to kind of zero in on it on particular statements with an advisor that I wanted to kind of go even deeper into some of the statements. So the effects of social media, it really depends. That’s the running theme of this of this whole webinar, in fact, that it really depends on what, you know, teens can see and do different things on online spaces. It’s not just the monolithic online space. You know, the more the less that you see yourself reflected, you know, just like people, other panelists were saying the lower your self-regard might be because you don’t see people that reflect who you are, what you look like, you know, what you believe in, your heritage. You know, if you don’t see these images and it used to be in in the older generations that it was all about televised images and magazine images, and now it’s about your own social media feeds and who you follow and what kind of images they put out in front of you that are important images that people are all talking about. And also, if you notice that your social group, in whatever way, shape or form is being targeted or victimized, it could also lower your self-regard because you’re seeing that other people are being victimized. Even if, they don’t do it to your child or you yourself, you see it. You almost feel it personally, especially if you have a very strong identification with that group, whether it’s your gender identity or sexual identity, your racial identity. If that group has been targeted, you can also feel those negative effects. Now, on the positive side, in terms of online communities, if you can find affinity groups and people who share your cultural traditions, you know you can find a sense of belonging and pride that might might be kind of not safe in your offline experience. Maybe you’re in a rural community or maybe you’re in a place that politically is not feeling safe to explore those those aspects of yourself. You might need that online environment as a as a lifeline. And also, a lot of times parents and community members are worried about talking about race and racism. But studies have shown that actually, if you are able to name racism and you’re able to really understand what race, how to identify racism out there, you can actually experience less distress because you could just say, oh that was racist and I can name it. And that’s their problem as opposed to, my gosh, I feel like my race, you know, is there something should I believe these these comments, you know, and so race related socialization is really, really important in our young people today, especially in online contexts. Now, the effects of social media also depend on their preexisting strengths and vulnerabilities. If it if they’re prone to contingent self-worth, which means do they care a lot about what other people, think of them. And so they base their self-worth and validation on other people’s evaluations of them. This may lead to more vulnerability. So you need to know who your child is and what they’re If they’re prone to this, then you might want to be much more aware of what’s what they’re seeing and doing on social media. However, they have a high regard about their about their social group already, like they already know that, oh gosh, I need to make sure I educate people out there about, you know, who I am. And and, you know, I’m neurodivergent and I want everybody to know what that experience is like. Then they’re more likely to to kind of feel a protective kind of notion when they’re social threats, when there are people talking about stereotypes and and things that really are not holding their group in high regard. They are a lot more have more protective, you know, resources at their disposal. Now, the effect of social media also depends on the context in which people grow up in. You know, there’s different households that have different belief systems. You know, some households believe in educational value of technology in a lot of households of color especially think, oh yeah, technology. It’s a life saver for our family. Thank goodness. You know, our young person actually has a computer, you know, to do their homework on. And and so in these households, they they are are making the decision that actually they’re somewhat of opportunities that could be had on technology so that the cost is worth it in terms of social media. And I know that other panels have said, too, that, you know, sometimes, you know, in other kinds of household, like maybe in lower income households, there’s a lot of work that is being done on on smartphones as opposed to computers. And of course, once a child or teen has a smartphone, what comes soon is social media. And so it’s very almost online. The context gets blurred. You know, you have easy access and sometimes people will feel worried about, my gosh, I should have too much access. Is that going to really damage their well-being or are they going to, you know, be fraught with addiction? You know, possibilities. But sometimes it’s just about, you know, some of these teens of color, they spend more time on online compared to the white counterparts. But it also they’re reporting that they enjoy social media more so. And and a lot of them are more social learners, you know, And so they might be doing their homework together with their friends on social media. And so so, so so we don’t want to make assumptions about why people are on social media more often. You know, maybe it’s not something thats not productive use of their time and other people have also said Dr. Daniel said, no, you know, one size fits all approach. You know, the surgeon general just had an advisory that came out this this year after the EPA advisory that, you know, really called attention to how personalized, you know, how marginalized youth, you know, have different ways that they’re being affected by social media. And actually, our team had a chapter that was cited by the U.S. surgeon general about marginalized youth using social digital media, which I’ll post the link to that link to that to that site. It’s a free, open access, you know, chapter. And that, you know, there’s no one size, you know, one social media that that everybody is experiencing. You know, some people are are accessing it to to have social support and other ones, you know, have a lot of identity affirming, you know, aspects of social media. It’s not just about the negatives. Our team actually just published a study that brings more nuance to how not all youth react to the same content. You know, you might think that, my gosh, there’s so much, you know, so much negativity and online hate messaging especially during the pandemic. You know, for different groups have a lot of very, you know, visceral, you know, disturbing images. And we found that when we looked at group differences in this study that just came out, you know, black Native American youth reported witnessing more online hate messaging, unfortunately, compared to their counterparts, but they reacted differently to this content. Asian American youth who are are typically less on social media than other racial groups. They are significantly more likely to have depressed symptoms if the more they are on social media. So as a group, they’re less on it. But if they are a group that actually in their subgroup that actually uses it more, they’re more likely to have difficulties, you know, with their mental health and African-American youth who are the most likely to be on social media, interestingly enough, decreased their online social anxiety at the more frequently the use of social media, but possibly because they have a lot of support online for for dealing with so some of the negativity online. There’s so many different ways that we can actually interpret this. And surprisingly, something in our study found that we didn’t. Those who are not witnessing online hate messaging, maybe they are kind of tuning out of that social sphere. They’re significantly associated with actually more online harassment and more depressive symptoms, the ones that are trying to avoid the whole scene altogether and the people that are exposed to more online hate messaging, maybe they’re going there, they’re opening it up. They want to see what everybody’s talking about. They are engaging in more socially supportive behaviors with the more they see it, the more they want to support each other. But they also have more anxiety because they have to like really manage this this space. And I think I saw Dr. McInroy’s also their space of there’s more civic engagement online, but also there’s more, you know, you know, kind of responsibility that they have to take within their communities. And just to close it out. Changing the narrative, you know, this this Pew Research infographic is showing that it’s it’s yes. And it’s it’s Girls are more likely to feel supported on social media, but they’re also overwhelmed by drama. So it’s yes and it’s everything and in between. Youth have many experiences on social media. There are there are positive and negative, and it’s development is appropriate. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s developmentally appropriate to be on social media for for American you know, for U.S. teens, according to their recommendations. And and our teen on our last my last slide here before going to the Q&A, we have been trying to figure out how to amplify marginalized voices in this digital ecosystem that we want to really shape the future of tomorrow’s users and to tell tech designers that, you know, our youth actually have a lot of answers to how we could improve the well-being of their experiences on social media. And so we we provide a free digital workshop on digital wellbeing for youth who and we prioritize marginalized youth, and particularly girls and girls who are marginalized to co-design more positive social media environments. And we have a youth advisory board that also helps us develop these these workshops and the timely topics that youth are facing each each year. This past summer we talked about AI and social media and body image. So it’s very timely and we’re going to offer a new afterschool club that’s virtual and everything is free and could be anywhere in the nation to to to be part of this. And if you have more got more information, you can go on our website. You can also email us too. So at this point, we are going to transition to our Q&A with our distinguished speakers and and thank you so much. Also ahead of time for the people that submitted questions even before that webinar began, as they registered, they had these questions that they were burning to ask and and and also the ones that came out as live today. So here are some ones that are kind of popping up. And I invite anybody to come and and take the floor. If you had an answer to any of them. So one of the first questions is, as a parent, would it be a good proactive strategy to develop specific or written expectations for social media use? Are there resources to to help write this type of parent and youth developed document? Does anybody have any thoughts on that?
[Dr. Chia-chen Yang]: Yeah, I can chime in here. I do think it’s a great strategy. That’s actually something I encourage both teens and parents do alongside each other. In one of the the other children’s Screens webinar I presented, I specifically said, Well, go ahead and talk to your teens about expectations. For some families, it makes sense to have the tech free time, and that’s going to look very different from one family to another. Maybe in my family it’s meal time because that’s when everyone is going to gather together and that’s their our quality time. For some families, it could be our driving time, that’s the only time we have to chat with each other. So and also during maybe bedtime, it’s tech free because it interferes with your sleep. So I think and then these are the times you can actually use it in if you’re working on your homework and your friends keep texting, texting you, how are you going to respond? Those are the things we can talk to teens about. And once they have a strategy, once they have a plan, once they know how to respond when they are disturbed by technology in the time they shouldn’t be, and they’ll be better prepared to to react to that. In terms of resources, I’m not sure whether they’re specifically on specific websites out there. Maybe other presenters can chime in, but I think Common Sense Media has a lot of useful resources. They might have a template out there that we can use. Thank you.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Yes, I do believe they do. And the American Academy of Pediatrics also has a family media use plan. So both of those are readily accessible and free to be looked up on that on the Internet for sure. Well, thank you so much. And another question that has come up is what could be the role of long lasting parasocial relationships with influencers, for instance, for kids healthy and unhealthy identity development. Can these parasocial role models assist healthy development and serve as a reference point for them regarding attitudes and norms? So any thoughts out there about that?
[Dr. Lauren McInroy]: I can speak specifically to Parasocial relationships when it comes to LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ identified online creators, I think there is certainly the opportunity for very positive parasocial relationships, right? Often being able to see their own developmental trajectories sort of performed or carried out by an online creator or a celebrity that they may feel like better represents them than some other representations they see in media. Certainly there is also the possibility of very unhealthy or maladaptive parasocial relationships. I really do think it depends on the young person and going back to sort of what is healthy use, what is productive use of technology, But I have certainly seen very positive parasocial relationships both with celebrities but also with just online creators, with with smaller followings. Right. Who I’m thinking particularly of some trans youth being able to see social and medical transition carried out over time. That can be very beneficial in certain circumstances.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Yes, Yes. That trajectory of identity development of older, you know, just just a little bit older people so that the younger folks know what what to expect. It’s it seems it’s almost like it helps lean into the authenticity, you know, kind of drive that might be more healthy identity development rather than kind of that idealistic perfectionists, you know, not showing all the cracks and and that difficult journey, that winding path that that people took to get to where they are, where they’re feeling much more self-assured about their identity, for sure. So the next question is about how how can we talk with youth about filters and and authentic presentation online, you know, both in the sense of how they perceive others post and how they can engage in a healthy way themselves? You know, maybe Dr. Daniels has has a thought about filters and authenticity.
[Dr. Elizabeth Daniels]: Yeah. I mean, I think it depends on the motivation for the filter. Right? So you can imagine there being sort of like playful thematic filters. You know, I’m sure there are plenty for Halloween and that might just be fine. But if we’re talking about filters that alter physical appearance to comply with kind of dominant ideas around what’s beautiful, that may be related to more troubling attitudes for body image. So again, I think context matters. You know, what’s what’s the purpose of the filter? How frequently are you know, is an individual child using filters? I also think it’s important for them to be able to identify filters so that they’re aware of this image that they’re seeing is is filtered. So, you know, those are some things that I would pay attention to and that it’s really part of a more broader conversation about what’s going on in terms of content on social media and helping especially younger children realize what these images that they’re looking at really are. So it’s again, not a one size fits all type of piece of advice, but those are some thoughts.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Yeah, for sure. I think a lot of people automatically assume any filter is bad or or that it’s just not perpetuating, you know, real and raw. And so it’s bad somehow. But they could be fun. They could just be Halloween filters and and ways to be creative and things like that. So so it’s it’s a good way to just remember that all filters are not the same either, for sure. Okay. So another question is about do platform features like, you know, the likes and emojis and ability to comment influence what teens take away from the visual versus text based platforms. You know, any any any recommendations about, you know, that that aspect of the affordances of social media platforms.
[Dr. Elizabeth Daniels]: I guess I’ll I’ll jump in first on that one, because one of the the pieces that I pointed out was it matters which platform you’re talking about in terms of body image. So we are, as humans, just very responsive to visual. So the extent to which image is getting typically you’ll see more likes on a, on an image than a text.That’s, that’s just kind of standard. And we know with teens in particular that, you know, the likes are really activating that reward center in the brain. So they are and during that developmental period, they’re attuned to social information at a heightened level. Then at other stages of development. So when you have a teen posting an image on social media, they’re looking for information from their peers about whether the image is good or not, and then their brains are actually processing the likes in an sort of a heightened level than what you might experience as an adult or as a parent. And I don’t know about everybody else, but I definitely can recognize when I feel motivated by a like so think about a teen having that same reaction. It’s it’s to another level that we as adults experience. So it’s really potent and especially if you track that over time and see the kind of accumulation of that effect, which is kind of that idea of a training ground that I was referencing in terms of body image. So if I’m just continuing to post selfies of myself seeking those likes and getting them, that’s reinforcing me to keep doing that. Although there is sort of a break in terms of peers not really tolerating too much of that, but it does create kind of a feedback loop. And, and so we want to be aware of that.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Absolutely. There’s that dopamine, you know, push, you know, when we get that validation and even more heightened in the adolescent brain development stage and that could be all or nothing thinking it’s like, they love me. Oh no, they hate me. And so as adults, it’s great to remember remember those times, those tumultuous years where where you really your validation really depended on your peers in a lot of ways, not just online, but offline for sure. Okay. So, yeah, go ahead.
[Dr. Chia-chen Yang]: I’d like to chime in here. I think those likes or quantifiable matrix, serve kind of at least two purposes. One is it sets the norm. It tells you these are the things my friends like to see. So that’s going to be the right thing to do. And at the same time, it also allows people to compete and compare. If my picture gets ten likes and you always get 100, what does that make me look like? And so there’s like at least two layers of challenges there. And unfortunately, I think it’s a little too much to ask each individual to tackle that. I think it’s really the tech company who should be making changes in that design. So one change with already seen is that some platforms today they still publish likes, but you can choose to hide it. So as the profile owner, I still see how many likes I get, but other people don’t. So yes, on the one hand I still know whether this follows the peer norm, but at the same time at least I don’t have to worry about other people seeing how many likes I get. So that takes away a little pressure of that being judged and in comparing with people. And so I think there’s something that tech companies should be held accountable and be aware of how these features and affordances can create tension for the users and change it in a way that that prioritizes user well-being. And I know they care more about profit. But in this case, what I learned is when they hide that matrix, it doesn’t lead to lower use lower usage rate.So they’re willing to make that change. And so maybe finding that when we sweetspot that, okay, you don’t lose users or even users might stay up there for longer because don’t feel as much pressure now that you’re hiding that feature. Maybe that’s the way to go.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: That is so that’s such a great insight there Dr. Yang I mean hopefully they’re they are listening to this webinar and and will take notice for sure so going back to the motivation and intentions of use, how can adults talk with youth about their intentions and motivations for being on social media? We heard throughout the webinar today about how that is one of the, the ways that it could vary, you know, their experiences on online depending on the why they they want to be online, how do we help them to self-assess or develop healthier approaches in terms of intentions and motivations.
[Dr. Lauren McInroy]: So I do thinking about clinicians in particular. So again, for the young I work with, because many of them can’t share their particular online use or online activities with parents or other figures, teachers potentially in their lives, there is really a role for safe and supportive, affirming adults like clinicians to actually use technology with young people in practice. Right. And to talk about young people’s online lives as a domain of their daily experiences. Right. So when thinking about health mental health, wellbeing and having those broader conversations about youths lives, you there is really that need to integrate their digital experiences across those conversations and youth can definitely can sometimes to be fun, they’ll bring in a meme or something or they’ll show you something funny they saw on Tik Tok, but also to have conversations about those, to open those conversations about motivations, about reasons for use about the amount of use. Right. And and navigating those online relationships. I think there are real opportunities there to use fun side of social media with young people in different contexts to kind of open those conversations and honestly also to to sometimes to model opportunities. I think of examples with younger people. Sometimes I have a colleague who’s an academic focused on technology use, and when his daughter was starting to get busy with technology and they ended up creating an Instagram account for their pet, right, and learn how to use the features together, learned what was appropriate to post and not to post. Right. So that I think there are different ways to sort of have enjoy the fun side of media and at the same time be sort of helping youth think through what the boundaries are, what the boundaries should be. But I don’t know what others would think.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: I love that a trial period, you know, a trial run with a family pet. I mean, it helps get out those the training wheels, you know, to try to figure out the features and who sees what posts and, you know, see what is likable. And you know, from the in their online networks, who wants to be following you. So wow that’s I hadn’t heard of that one so it’s so cool. Okay. So we have a question about unrealistic beauty standards. So let’s get back to back into this mode here. So This issue predates social media, right? So is there a unique issue related to social media or is an extension of preexisting media issue, is social media helping it at all to broaden the standard for beauty compared with more digital media, which typically doesn’t get as much airtime? Maybe. What do you think? What do you think?
[Dr. Elizabeth Daniels]: Yeah, I mean, I remember having conversations about social media in the aughts, right, early 2000s, thinking about could this be a way to almost democratize media because users can create whatever they want. And so we know that traditional media is full of idealized images of people and that we are subjected to that, and we have very little ability to influence that. But social media, in contrast, could be completely different. And so, you know, academics sitting around speculating about what will people do. And unfortunately, what seems to have happened, largely speaking, is we’ve replicated the standards in mainstream media on social media with a fair number of exceptions, but we see a lot of that thin ideal, the fit ideal being kind of disseminated out through social networks in in a way that is a little, you know, to my mind, it’s sort of unfortunate that we didn’t have that diversification of content. That being said, there certainly has been in the last decade, at least a move, to represent a more positive body, you know, body positivity movement on social media. It’s a little bit complicated because that what that means for an individual, how we as a viewer interpret a particular image is variable. So you see some quote unquote body positive content which is self-defined by the user as not really being that positive. Right. It’s still replicating kind of a narrow ideal, but we can look at other body positive content that shows a diversity of body shapes and sizes, represents people from all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds as being much more positive. And the extent to which we can follow those individuals, like their content, engage with it helps train our algorithm. So we see more and more of that content, which can then be protective for us In terms of body image. We’re seeing more real bodies in our feeds, and I would argue that that can be a positive for users. And, you know, I wish there were more of it relative to the narrow, more traditional images that are sort of all over mainstream media. Also I’ll say that frequently we see the gender binary, right? We see a lot of these curated, stylized images that reinforce traditional male and traditional female roles. We see very little gender diversity, sexual orientation diversity and so forth. And so it’s again, kind of replicating that that mainstream media in terms of sort of who is represented in that being pretty narrow.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Yes. I liked your phrase of training our algorithms, you know, my my students talk talk to me about how okay, well, tonight I’m going to start training my algorithm again because I haven’t I took a break, a long break, and I’m going to just kind of push away all the things that really don’t make me happy. And this is what I want now. And so it kind of gives them a little bit of the a little sense of agency, you know, in what they get to see and do on social media. But of course, this is like a developmental space these are college students. But how about the people that are who are just starting on social media? You know, I also want to talk about body positivity. And I feel like there’s been for some people, the goal may never may never reach being body positive. And so there’s also movement of body neutrality and body, you know, sort of just being being accepting of your body as opposed to rah rah. This is like I’m I’m the most beautiful person on earth. How how does social media how can it play a role in in that kind of a movement of of it not being, you know, hate, love and hate, you know, some kind of in between it? Any. Any thoughts on that from anybody?
[Dr. Elizabeth Daniels]: I would argue, you know, this idea of body neutrality, we should also think about what does it mean to be embodied so to actually experience your body internally. So it’s this it’s kind of surprising how many times we push away information that our body is giving us all the time. I’ll give an example. I was having a headache a little bit earlier on, which is very inconvenient. I don’t have time for a headache. And so I was pushing it away. I was refusing to acknowledge I was having pain. We do this all the time with cues around food. Am I hungry am I full? We we sort of ignore this. We ignore whether we need sleep or not. And so those that’s disembodiment, right? This is this is me separating from these cues that my body is sending me that are actually very important for my well-being. So I think when we talk about body positivity, it’s not the same thing as being embodied and I would argue actually pushing for people to acknowledge what’s happening in their body is very important in ways that we largely overlook, and it’s related to pretty significant issues of burnout and illness. And we can see this even in kids, right, being too stressed and anxious. So what if we actually tune in to what our bodies are telling us? Social media is probably another way in which we are tuning out what is actually happening in our body. And so I’m not saying that we want to, you know vilify social media and say, just get off. But it might be a way that youth are actually distracting themselves, which could be in some ways helpful in a given moment. But if it’s part of a larger practice of constantly ignoring our internal cues, that’s probably not healthy for us over time. So yeah, social media, you know, it’s a bit tricky in terms of thinking about what is healthy and it’s not the same for every person or every age group and, you know, and so forth. So it has to be kind of calibrated to the individual.
[Dr. Lauren McInroy]: I wanted to add on to that. I agree with everything that Dr. Daniels said and I think is just right. I think also what’s interesting when we’re talking about much too little, these kind of balancing acts, right, is for certain populations that that kind of disembodiment also is a really important benefit of technology. Right. So for example, I’m thinking again of trans youth who experience potentially a lot of dysphoria around their physical bodies, their gender, gender presentation in offline spaces. The opportunity to build a character in an online game, right? Or write a do a piece of art or write a story right where able to sort of it sort of become unembodied and to write about the possibilities that that are that could be exist for them the idea of sort of experimentation exploration, identity testing. Right. So what often what LGBTQ plus youth will do, they’ll create an avatar or character in online space and they’ll try it out. Oh that doesn’t quite fit me. I don’t quite like that doesn’t quite represent me. Creating a new character right and being able to sort of do that kind of experimentation, explore exploration process without and engage in online environments with others, without those people having preconceived notions based on their physical bodies. Right. So I think, again, thinking about like it’s all ballance, it all goes back to sort of balance and intention. So yeah.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Definitely. Thank you. Any advice for parents on how to deal with hate speech or misinformation targeting teens on social media? And are these concerns different for different populations of youth now? I guess I could go I can go first but. Feel free to tell me what your thoughts are, too. But I mean, one of the things I wanted to mention that is if a youth and one of your young people came to you and wanted to talk to you about what’s happening on their social media that happened to do with hate speech, please say tell me more. Instead of saying, my gosh, I need to shut this down and take that phone away, You know, just because they see that online, does it mean that it doesn’t they wouldn’t have seen it offline. You know, it doesn’t exist only on online speeches, just happens to have, you know, passed through them on their feed. And this is a teachable moment, actually, to talk head on about race, racism, bigotry, you know, misogyny, homophobia, teachable moments, because how many times do you really have that opportunity now? Back in the old days when you were watching TV shows together. When you’re co-viewing, you can talk about these issues and now it’s social media. And so think of it as an opportunity for you to to be able to talk about it. And and maybe it’ll lead to a conversation about an offline, you know, experience that they had, you know, and and how does this is it the same players are the same people kind of doing these things, you know, online and offline in your peer group or or are there certain news stories that maybe you need to kind of mute because it is distressing them too much, but but really have it as an open dialog opposed to, my gosh, that means that that site equals bad. And so now we’re going to get you off because that’s going to harm you in some way. It didn’t it didn’t you Social media didn’t create, you know, the racism that exists in society and it kind of fuels that fire for people to to see it more, more, more frequently perhaps. And so that that’s another way to train your algorithm to to to figure out, okay, if this is happening in ways that are distressing to your young person, sit down together to figure out who are the most healthy influences on your on your feed and organizations to follow that are more, you know, healthy for identity development. There could be influencers that are on that, on that path as well, that are much more, you know, aligned with that that young person’s, you know, self esteem. The growth at that stage in their treatment. So okay, I think we have I think can we all end on this one question I know I can’t believe the time has flown by so fast. We’re almost at the end. And there’s this wonderful question that could be that we can all be left with is if each of you can see how can parents support teens who are struggling to build high quality connections with their peers, Do you have a tip to help them navigate that space? For everybody here listening today, who wants to go first?
[Dr. Lauren McInroy]: So I’ll get us started? I guess. So, I’m not quite if we’re talking about offline or online peers, right. I think technology and social media can be important in building both those social networks for young people and in some cases that are offline friends or online friends and vice versa. And sometimes they’re only in a particular space for youths lives.I think having young people supporting them in their engagement with positive positive peers and role models in online environments that are reflective of them and their interests. And I will say there are more online specific online interventions and spaces, moderated spaces. I’m thinking of LGBTQ youth specifically, but for different youth groups in online space. Right? Again, I mentioned the Trevor Project earlier. Q Chat space, which is a chat based social space for LGBTQ young people to support those kinds of opportunities for youth, I think, and to sort of help youth in sort of again, sort of thinking through what the possibilities are, thinking through the kinds of responses they want to have, I think. But, but considering their online friends as important to them and as real to them, I think, and not discounting it as a sort of less real or less supportive peer network, I think is really important for for particular groups of young people. So yeah.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Well put thank you so much, who wants to go next?
[Dr. Elizabeth Daniels]: I can go next. I don’t feel qualified to answer this question, so I’m going to shift it a little bit to to talk about what could be problematic in terms of body image concerns. So when you see a friend really heavily engaged in body talk, sort of constantly focused on the calories and food and, you know, wanting to look a certain size and so forth, that is going to affect the kids that are around that person. And so, you know, it’s difficult. I think we probably all have had those experiences in life where we’ve been in relationships or friends with somebody who is suffering body image issues. And there are ways in which, you know, you can offer support, but not engaging in that dialog is very important. It shouldn’t be something that girls in particular bond over. I will say boys shouldn’t be bonding over building muscles either, and so encouraging your kids to kind of disrupt that and see if they can shift that focus to something more about who we are as people. Right. And what we can do. And, you know, whether we’re kind and a good friend, you know, these are more important aspects, but not getting kind of caught into a cycle of focused on on sort of appearance in a narrow way is important.
[Dr. Linda Charmaraman]: Thank you so much. We are actually past time. I apologize for that. And Kris Perry is back here to help us end this conversation. But thank you so much for for joining us today.
[Kris Perry]: Thank you, Linda. And everyone on the panel for really interesting and relevant topic and conversation. I have been at the edge of my seat listening to your expert advice. And just want to thank you all for your incredibly informative presentations and recommendations to learn more about the Institute and all things Digital Media and Child Development, please visit our website childrenandscreens.org. Follow us on these platforms and subscribe to our YouTube channel. We hope you will join us again for the next Ask the Experts webinar on Wednesday, November 15th. Algorithms 101 Youth and AI driven Tech. Thank you.