Teens With Low Self-Esteem Boost Image Online

Survey Shows Teenage Girls Don’t Always Present Themselves Honestly in Social Networking

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 12, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 11, 2010 -- When it comes to the Internet, teenage girls, particularly those with low self-esteem, don’t always present themselves honestly.

Girl Scouts of the USA conducted a national survey in June 2010 of 1,026 girls ages 14 through 17. The survey found that girls often downplay their positive characteristics on social media networking sites, and many choose to portray themselves as sexy or crazy.

Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said they believe their peers use social networking web sites to make themselves sound “cooler than they really are” and 41% said they use the Internet to portray themselves in a way that was different from the reality.

Overall, Girl Scouts of the USA found pluses and minuses for teenage girls using online social networking -- from getting involved in a cause to being bullied.

Among the survey findings:

  • 82% reported themselves as smart
  • 76% reported themselves as kind
  • 59% said they were a good influence
  • 84% said they were fun
  • 33% of girls with low self-esteem said their online image didn’t match their in-person image compared with 18% of girls with higher self-esteem
  • 22% of girls with low self-esteem portrayed themselves as sexy compared with 14% of those with a higher self-esteem
  • 35% of girls with low self-esteem identified themselves as crazy online compared with 28% of girls with a higher self-esteem
  • 30% of girls said online social networking increased the quality of their friendships and 52% said they got involved in a cause they care about through online social networking
  • 85% said they talked to their parents about safe online social networking behavior

Fifty percent reported not always being as careful as they should be about what they say and do on social networking sites. Sixty-eight percent said they have had a negative experience online, such as being bullied.

Social Networking and Emotional Well-Being

About 40% of girls also reported being worried about getting into trouble with their parents or teachers, missing a job opportunity, not getting into college of their choice, or having someone lose respect for them because of their online social activities.

Ninety-two percent of survey respondents said they would give up online social networking if it meant keeping their best friend, someone to interact with in person. Just over half of those surveyed reported having online friends they had never met in person.

Girl Scouts of the USA said the findings shed light on how teenage girls use online social networking and how their emotional well-being could be affected.

“Adults and teens alike need greater understanding about the ways girls represent themselves and communicate on social networking sites,” Kimberlee Salmond, senior researcher at the Girl Scout Research Institute, says in a news release. “If girls are portraying themselves differently online than they are in person, this can impact their identity, sense of self and relationships.”