Over the last three years, Facebook has conducted internal studies on how Instagram affects millions of users. Repeatedly they found it had dangerous effects on their body image, anxiety, and depression, especially for teenage girls. One in three teenage girls said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves. Suicidal thoughts reportedly increased with use of Instagram for teens. These studies are especially concerning since 40% of Instagram users are 22 years of age or younger.
The false representation of perfect people doing perfect things in perfect relationships leaves many feeling worse about their imperfections. Since teens admire the influencers they follow, they are blinded by filters and unrealistic ideals. They begin hating their life or body and develop unhealthy attitudes about themselves that aren’t true or realistic. If you’re a parent, it’s important to talk to your teens about their social media use, including the frequency and who they follow. If your teen is checking their Instagram more than 4 hours a day, they are being bombarded with unrealistic and unattainable beauty and lifestyle.
Teens crave validation from their peers, and social media is a quick way to get that approval. Some teens spend hours editing and posing. Any positive feedback they gain can be destroyed with one negative comment. It’s important that parents check-in and talk to their teens. Here are 4 suggestions that will help you prevent social media from destroying your child’s body image and mental health.
1. Be careful of how you compare yourself or your child to others. Social comparison becomes more important in the teen years. Teens look to peers and others to validate and accept them. Social media sets narrow views of beauty; focus on your child’s strengths and teach them that anyone who has success also has had failure. Only a filter can create perfection. If it looks too good to be true, it has been edited.
2. Use real examples of shows or magazines you look at together. When you and your teen are watching a show, talk about the messages being sent. What are advertisers trying to sell? Help your child see the marketing side of making models look perfect to sell products.
3. Encourage your child to become active in their life, focusing on their interests and less on influencers. Engage with your child and help them validate what they’re gifted in or enjoy. Activities they can excel in boosts their self-confidence and leaves them less vulnerable to unrealistic standards. Research has shown that teens who participate in sports derive social validation from peers and develop body confidence.
4. Talk with your teen about unhealthy body images. Educating your child about what starvation does to your brain and body is important. Schedule a meeting with a dietician if your child has body concerns. When parents become encouragers and listen to their child’s concerns, the child feels less alone and desperate.
The teen years are challenging years, but no other stage of your child’s life is as important for building close communication and trust. Make these conversations part of your daily dialogue with your child. Remind them that real friends are more invested in their needs than anyone they follow on Instagram. Reassure your child that if they have concerns, they can come to you. If your child is complaining about feeling anxious and depressed, talk to your pediatrician and allow them to help guide you and your child in taking the appropriate actions for helping your child.
If your child at any time is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline together with your child. They have trained counselors available. Never let your child suffer alone or in silence due to fear of disappointing you. 1-800-273-8255