Self-esteem is all about how a person views themselves. When a person has a healthy sense of self, they respect themselves and they possess the courage to try different experiences even if it means that they might fail. A positive sense of self is driven to make healthy decisions and does not search for negative influences to pattern after. Low self-esteem is the complete opposite; it entails feelings of loneliness and self-hate. Low self-esteem is a serious problem for many young people; they often feel that they are undesirable and not worthy of having long lasting friendships or love interest. These feelings are a normal part of adolescence but, children who have low self-esteem find that negative thoughts and feelings of self-loathing don’t seem to disappear. A child who has a normal and healthy sense of self has the ability to overcome these feelings or find ways to cope with them. Children with low self-esteem often can’t summons the energy to channel positive thoughts and feelings. To combat this problem, teens will search for things that will make them feel complete. According to (Bessie`re, Seay, & Kiesler, 2007; Wan & Chiou, 2006), feelings of inadequacy and meekness often leads young people to prolonged use of the Internet. Children with low self-esteem also feel that the important adults in their lives, constantly judge them on their performances in school and in other social situations. They feel a need for acceptance and love from their parents, peers and community. The Internet and Social media sites also provide children the opportunity to fill the void of despair by choosing negative and harmful role models to pattern themselves after. These role models become important to them, they feel a need to nurture them and allow them to grow. Many times, these characters are more important than actual face to face communication with peers and family.
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Internet addiction in this case is characterized as a child or young adult spending excessive amounts of time and energy on the internet or on social media sites. The child will often find himself visiting sites; posting pictures and communicating all day long, while neglecting their daily responsibilities and routines. Instead of having normal peer relationships and interactions, the child seeks; people to chat with on-line. Greenfield (1999) found that young people, who use chat-rooms in a marked degree, make up a large group of compulsive Internet users. For these participators, chat rooms and Social media sites become their primary outlet for interactions; relationship building and the fulfillment of social needs. These children often miss the opportunity to make friends in the real world because they start to believe that the people they meet on line can be trusted with personal information. Polls taken on students found that Seventy-two percent of school age range youth has admitted to using internet chat rooms in excess on a daily basis. Young (1997) found that children lose out on peer interactions and academic opportunities due to compulsive internet use.
Egger (1996), found eight prevalent indications of Internet addiction: 1. the child seems to overlook time spent when on line, 2. the child gets angry when he is asked to end Internet time. 3. The child steals time on the internet without parental permission, 4. The child exhibits a loss of interest in daily activities or relationships, 5. Child seems depressed and despondent when they are not on-line, 6. Child checks e-mails and Social Media accounts constantly, 7. The child seeks out friends on-line and forms new relationships and 8. The child uses chat identification names while off-line.
A child can also find themselves developing addictive patterns like; checking media sites or entering chat rooms. On the Internet; a child who is normally shy and reserved, can create a whole new image and personality by joining on-line chat rooms. In a groundbreaking article, Rheingold (1996) argued that internet chat rooms and Social media sites are places that a child can “act out” a part in a role of their choosing. The child can create their own reality, while hiding behind a computer terminal. In these social media rooms, the child feels the freedom to “re-create” himself into the person he wishes to be. This gives the child the power to control his state of being. Instead of feeling powerless and non-existent, the child has the confidence that he never had before. On-line friendships in Social media sites become more important than actual relationships with family members and peers. This is why it is so easy for the child to become addicted to Social media; they seem to be a safe harbor for anyone who feels lonely and powerless. There are many popular sites that children use in order to chat with others; many times these sites condone sexually explicit behavior and messages. These sites have a large adolescent following; they offer the chance to chat with peers and create web pages that can be
suggestive and inappropriate. Many children often feel free enough to explore their sexuality and desires without anyone knowing who they are. Arisoy and Davis (2009, 2001) states that despite the fact that overuse of Social media and Internet sites are seen as productive and gratifying to the user; it is actually an unhealthy way of coping with feelings of inadequacy.
Facebook and MySpace are very popular Social media sites that teens with low self-esteem frequent. These sites are among the most popular social networking sites that children frequent today; with millions of teen followers (most under the age of 15). These sites allow the users to update their status as many times as they would like without fear of being reprimanded for inappropriate language or content. Lampe (2006) argued that the dominant reason why Social media sites exist is to bridge friends and family together; in spite of distance and time constraints. But what happens when these sites are abused by teens? These sites then become addictive and harmful to the user and can ultimately cause the child to perform poorly in school and in life.
The allure to these sites seems to be the fact that children can create the self-image they always wanted to have. They can create an identity that mirrors the self-image they wish to have; while inviting the same peers who tease them to be friends with them. The child feels that the friends made on line are true and loyal. The child feels a sense of excitement and joy when their peers desire to view their page; this is seen as acceptance-even if the child is being deceptive. Children with self-image issues are given the platform to voice concerns and maybe turn the tables on awkward situations. Many children will hide behind Social media sites in order to empower themselves-sometimes in negative ways.
Another effect that the internet has on self-esteem is cyber bullying. Cyber bullying entails using the internet or other electronic devises to harass or intimidate another person. Cyber bullying occurs when a child or group of children flood the internet or other electronic devises with negative images; slurs or rumors about fellow classmates of peers. Analysis establishes that cyber bullying causes both boys and girls feelings of exasperation, sadness, and desperation. Girls tend to respond with discontent but boys are preoccupied with feelings of possible revenge and score settling by the bully. This negative behavior has become a national problem; it is among the leading cause of teen suicide and school violence. Cyber bullies have many excuses as to why they harass their peers. Some say that they do it to “get back” at them for some wrong doing; another cyber bully says they did it because the class mate dressed and acted differently from other students. Children who have low self-esteem and are bullied feel unsafe in their surroundings. They feel that wherever they are, they can be touched by vicious and unfounded rumors on the Internet or physically harmed by the people who started the rumors. Children in this situation may feel too intimidated to tell a parent, family member or community leader. There is an unspoken rule that children in schools across the country follow; the no “snitching” or tattling rule. It often does not matter if the child is threatened or harmed in front of hundreds of their peers, that child feels that they can’t tell. If they are brave enough to tell, the child will most certainly face retaliation and social humiliation by not only the bully but their friends also. These feelings of helplessness and confusion often lead the victim to either take their own life or the lives of the bully or other innocent people. Kessel (2012) stated that many victims of cyber bullying dealt with feelings of emotional distress; these feelings lead to depression, self-mutilation and or suicide.
Pedophilia and predatory stalkers are also contributors to self-esteem and the Internet. In this case, children are preyed on while on certain Social media sites with the assumption that they are reaching out to young people their own age; but police reports and news articles paint a different picture. In the last few years; reports have invaded the news about the dangers of frequenting sites that have a large youth following. Pedophiles and stalkers prey on the young and naÃ¯ve; they use and contact children through their social media pages with false identities and backgrounds. The perpetrator is only chatting with the child in order to gain their trust and to acquire their personal information. After the offender gains that child’s trust; they offer to meet them face to face with the promise of sex, drugs or some type of adventure. Often; these children are found sexually abused, psychologically scared or even worse- deceased. According to Melody (2007), in standard, there are three elements of staking:
1. there has to be a continuous sequence of unwanted behavior displayed by the stalker to the victim;
2. The stalker has to have made a threat toward the victim;
3. The victim has to have experienced a sense of uneasiness or danger as a result of the stalker.
Recently, Facebook and other sites have promised to “clean up” its content by going in and deleting the member pages that contain explicit and suggestive language and content. They also vowed to delete the pages of children who post personal information such as; phone numbers, addresses and names of schools. Facebook and other sites only agreed to do this after a group of angry parents and educators called attention to the threat against our youth.
Spitzberg and Hoobler (2002) argued that with the influx of Social media sites and other forms of technology, stalkers and pedophiles have better access to their victims. It is imperative that parents become active participants in spreading the word about the dangers of excessive internet use.
Another link to self-esteem and internet use is negative body image. Teens are often ambushed with some type of media which includes circulars, videos, radio and Internet sites. Many young people and teens spend large amounts of time searching on fashion sites for the latest trend and fad diet. Children can spend hours in their rooms on various sites “researching” pictures of the perfect nose; eyes; stomach and behind. Many times these images are photo shopped and “doctored” to be flawless; the children feel that these images are real and should be aspired to. Young people with low self-esteem feel that their bodies are ugly and flawed so they are in search of what will make them feel whole. Many young women find themselves eager to have reconstructive surgeries done on their bodies due to these feelings. The Internet fuels these feelings of self-hate by encouraging young women and sometimes boys to fixate on images and celebrities body parts that they deem as attainable. The more these images are downloaded; more time consuming it becomes for the adolescent; this causes them to loose themselves in a world of unhealthy and detrimental thoughts. This time could be better spent interacting with peers and forming; lasting relationships outside of the home. Park (2005) suggests that the issues teens face with body image has taken an upturn with the surge in popularity of the Internet and Social media sites.
There are many strategies parents can use in order to build higher self-esteem in children: parents need to create an open dialogue with children about their feelings and social interactions. Children who are disheartened feel that they have little chance to be successful in life. By opening the lines of communication; the child can express emotions and work out any aggression they might feel. This also gives the parent a better understanding on how to help the child through difficult times.
Adults should show genuine care and concern toward the child and their particular issues; this will break down the wall of uncertainty and lack of trust between parent and child. Children can feel betrayed and angry when they sense that the parent is humoring them or being condescending; these feelings might lead the child to mistrust the parent and shut down. These assumptions could also lead the child to feel that their parents don’t have their best interest at heart. To ensure that the child is not made to feel embarrassed or shunned, parents should think before they engage in an open dialogue. It is a good idea that parents establish an environment of optimism and concern about life and its up’s and down’s; be honest enough to tell them that we all face disappointments and hardships but stress the importance of not giving up. Have faith in the child/young person and display it- let the child know that they make a difference in the world. Dispense praise and positive assessment; children feel their self-worth is contingent on how their peers view of them. To help reassure the child a parent can acknowledge when they attempt a hard task then, praise them for having had the courage to try. Learn to acknowledge what a child is feeling by asking them to identify their feelings. Parents of young children can even have a feelings chart hung in sight; with the proper title under each emotion.
When the young child can’t express their emotion in words, they can point to an emotion that best describes them. This will give the child the assurance that they are heard and understood by the parent while the parent teaches the names of the emotions and the best ways child how to handle them. Parents should also try to focus on the positive actions of the child instead of the negative ones so the child will feel confident and empowered instead of degraded and singled-out. Children love to imitate or follow after adults so it is important to allow children to see you take chances and step outside the “norm”. This action sends a clear message to the child; “If I am brave enough to try, you can do it also”. Encourage your child to use the creativity they possess; if they like to draw or paint, enroll them in an art class and participate. Lastly; trust that your child can handle making their own decisions; start with small issues then work up to large ones but keep the lines of communication open. For example; allow the child to choose their wardrobe for school. If there are questionable choices made, use that situation to positively discuss it. As time goes on, both sides will learn to compromise and talk out larger issues. Parents can also get children involved in activities away from home and the computer. Engaging in physical activity helps to stimulate the mind; build muscles and allows opportunities for positive social interactions.
There are many strategies parents can use in order to combat excessive Internet usage in children.
1. Parents need to inform themselves about the internet and chat rooms; parents are not aware that their children are addicted to the internet because they know so little about it. Parents should ask their children to help them navigate through some of the social media sites. Allow them to
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assume the role of teacher while the parent praises them of their knowledge and understanding of the sites. This will make the child feel easier about sharing this information and create an opening for questions and answers.
2. Take a computer literacy class. If parents are not comfortable with asking their child to show them how to navigate the web, they can sign up for free classes. Places like the public library and community centers offer free or reduced priced classes that will teach the basics of computer usage.
3. Computers should reside in an open space in the home. This way; the child will not lock himself away in a room or spend enormous hours surfing unknown and unsafe sites. If the entire family has access to the computer, the child does not have the privacy to sneak away and use the computer inappropriately.
4. Adults also need to monitor children’s use of the internet. The child should not spend more than two hours a day on the Internet with each hour broken into half an hour intervals. By allowing children to use the internet in intervals, we give them an opportunity to explore other talents and interests that might not be utilized while on-line.
5. Parents should become detectives. Parents can log on and create their own page in a site that a child frequents; this way the parent will find out the types of conversations that takes place. Some may find this as intrusive but in some cases; it has to be done to save a child’s life.
6. When choosing data plans for cell phones or other devises, limit the time and sites that the child can visit. There are many applications that can be downloaded on the phone to ensure the
safety of youth and teens. Technology can be wonderful and beneficial if we learn to use it properly.
In an effort to combat cyber bullying and online harassment it is a good idea to get teachers and school administrators involved. Some students are more comfortable confiding in teachers or counselors about cyber bullying rather than talking to their parents. They may feel that the teacher has a better understanding of these issues because they understand teens better. While in school, teachers should:
1. Discuss Internet safety and proper usage of cell phones and other devises.
2. Facilitate open dialogues in class about the dangers and warning signs if cyber bullying.
3. Give students the strategies to combat cyber bullying like; reporting it right away and keep personal business and information off the Internet.
4. Lastly, make an effort to let the student know that you are available to assist them with the issue.
Parents can also turn to churches for seminars and small group discussions about self-esteem and internet use. Parents can play a role in self-esteem building by treating the child with respect and love, seriously listening to their views and opinions. Most importantly, parents have to remember that self-esteem is paramount in every child’s development. When the child sees that this issue is important to you; they will take notice and start talk about their concerns.
Now that we have identified the link between internet addiction and self-esteem, parents must be proactive and get involved with their children and their activities. Parents have to be able to recognize the signs of low self-esteem and be ready to help the child cope with their feelings. Parents have to be the child’s first resource when their feelings and emotions seem to go awry. In order to be this resource, they have to become familiar with various strategies and plans that will aid the child. Parents should be prepared to notice the signs of low self-esteem and be willing to seek outside help. The Internet and other technologies have indeed changed our lives in meaningful and substantial ways; this why we have to help our children understand and assume the responsibilities of it.