TEENS: Are teens seeing the world through a filter?

12 August 2016
Reading time4 mins

As a generation that has grown up in the digital age, forever plugged in and always connected, teens are the new active consumer.They seek identity, belonging and expression through their online activity. Often with more virtual friends that real life friends, our teenagers are constantly fed altered, enhanced and improved images of what life is like.

But are teens losing their identity, in this biased branded media world?

Research clearly shows it’s not all likes, hearts and smiling emojis. The link between social media usage and negative body image is a reality, with teen girls (15–17yrs) almost twice as likely to have a probable serious mental illness than young males*. If our teens are seeing the world through a rose tinted filter, it’s clearly having some negative impact.

Teens are at risk of losing their own identity, or even not getting the opportunity to discover it in the first place. In particular, teen girls. Social media feeds display the highlight reels of insta-celebs and influencers. Just recently Jennifer Anniston spoke out about the constant scrutiny of women through the ‘”toxic messages” on social media and the “sport-like scrutiny and body shaming.”

“The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing,” she wrote. This “warped way we calculate a woman’s worth” is taking its toll.

Studies show the more time girls spend on social media each day the more they self-objectify and become unsatisfied with their bodies*.

As consumers of media we all know how images are airbrushed and altered to perfection. Thankfully, younger audiences are learning too. Megan Trainer is keeping it real with her fans when recently she took down her Me Too video because “they photoshopped the crap out of me. And I’m sick of it.”

Awareness is just the start. Just because girls know what they see isn’t always real doesn’t guarantee it isn’t negatively impacting them. As part of research for the book GirlTribes, The Teen Girls Guide to Surviving and Thriving in our Media Marketing World, author Helen Roe surveyed girls on their perceptions of how girls are portrayed in advertising and media. Although all girls admitted to not believing everything they saw or heard in advertising they were still impacted by the messaging. Here are just some of their comments.

“The messages I see in the media are that happy successful girls are thin and dress to show off their figure. Successful girls look a ‘certain way’ and listen to a certain type of cool music. Sometimes I feel like I want to be them, but then later I think I shouldn’t do that. I should be myself and believe in myself.”
“When I see advertisements with girls my age in them it makes me feel disgusted and jealous. The pictures look so perfect. But they have been Photoshopped. Everything is edited and fake.”
“When I see advertisements with girls my age in them I automatically compare myself. I end up feeling deflated or not good enough.”

Feelings of ‘not good enough’ ‘deflated’ ‘too fat’ ‘disgusted’ ‘compare’ and ‘jealous’ were all too common. So what can we do as parents, teachers and caring adults to ensure our teenagers continue to see the real unfiltered world? Here are some suggestions.

  • Encourage brands and businesses to be socially responsible with realistic portrayals and diverse body sizes in their marketing and advertising.
  • Remove the focus on physical appearance and have a viewpoint other than one led by body image.
  • Celebrate diversity and healthy expression of teen girls and their own age appropriate sexuality.
  • Challenge media creators to rethink their branding that labels girls with diva fashionista stereoptypes.
  • Find ways to spend time away from media and attribute greater importance to personal experiences.
  • Critically review advertising and spark conversation about reality and perceptions of what it ‘normal.’

          Our teen girls can’t be what they can’t see. It’s up to us to lead by example and exercise our choice, challenge the norm and not buy into the stereotypes, hype and heresay that media and marketing create.

Research: *Mission Australia, Youth Survey 2015


Win a signed copy of the book GirlTribes! The Teen Girls Guide to Surviving and Thriving in our Media Marketing World.

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For more on navigating the world of social media, check out the recent article 8 steps to responsible social media use, and How to get the screen-time balance right.

Written by

Helen Roe

Helen Roe is a leading authority on marketing with over 20 years’ experience managing global brands to market success. Also a certified life and business coach, Helen is passionate about empowering our youth, in particular teen girls, to think creatively and critically about media marketing, build strong personal values and feel confident in their choices.

Media literacy amongst teen girls is a key step towards strengthening their self-belief, their confidence and their ability to make smarter choices. GirlTribes is the go-to survival guidebook that makes this possible. Learn more at www.helenroe.com/girltribes or connect on Twitter and Instagram @helen_roe

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