Teenage Athletes Face Social Media Challenges

The benefits of participating in high school sports for both boys and girls are well-established, helping them to develop healthy habits that can lead to healthier lives. But social media may be having an unfortunate affect, leading to body image issues that may contribute to teens deciding to quit, with teenaged girls quitting at higher rates than teenaged boys. This is according to new research presented during the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatricians.

The researchers who wrote the abstract, “The Effects of Body Image, Social Media and Gender Roles on Sports Attrition,” surveyed 70 current or past athletes between the ages of 8 and 18, in local athletic organizations or from sports medicine clinics. The researchers discovered that

“The benefits of youth sports participation are numerous and uncontested. Motor competence in children is positively associated with cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance and a healthy weight status,” said lead study author Cassidy M. Foley Davelaar, DO, FAAP, CAQSM, Nemours Children's Health, Florida Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Physician, associate professor at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine, and medical provider of the United States Tennis Association. “Negative body image and poor self-esteem affect physical activity in a similar way to poor perception of skills.”  

Some of the reasons for quitting sports that the 70 teenagers surveyed cited included poor body image from social media comparisons, coaching, and competitive pressure. Body image concerns were slightly less common among boys than girls. The study found that 44% of males thought they looked better than the ideal and 46% of females thought they looked worse than the ideal. Approximately 70% of children drop out of sports by the time they are 13 years old, and girls drop out of sports at a rate two times greater than that of boys.  

“In the surveys, women tend to be a bit more unhappy or uncomfortable with their body image than men. I believe this means we need to look critically at the messages we are sending female athletes as to what an athlete looks like to be more inclusive, body positive and realistic. Why are there not real athletes modeling sports clothes, and why are only the top athletes seen in images?" Foley Davelaar said. “We need to demonstrate to these younger generations a more diverse, inclusive and imperfect image of what it means to be athletic in order to invite them into that world. With this study, we hope to shed light on the real reasons for sports attrition to keep more kids involved.”