How Does Social Media Affect Teens?Heidi Trow
Adolescence is a turbulent time. As girls and boys become women and men, they begin to become self-conscious, question their roles in their peer groups, and strive for independence. Ideally, these formative years will help young people to become adjusted members of society. The advent of social media, however, has fundamentally changed what it means to be a teen in America today. Research indicates that apps like Instagram have begun to cause real damage to teenagers.
The Problem of Social Media
In an article for The Atlantic, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt lays out the negative impacts of social media. His argument refers to large-scale trends in teen mental health. The advent of Instagram – and other forms of social media – correlates with an increase in depressive episodes, suicide, and self-harm. Haidt names Instagram as the app responsible for “the massive, sudden, gendered, multinational deterioration of teen mental health during the period in question.”
The studies back this up. Instagram doesn’t make teens happy – in fact, the opposite is true.
Consider the Facebook research leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen: “Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression… this reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
Back in 2017, a survey of 1,500 British teens named Instagram as the most harmful social network, with respondents pointing to its negative effects on their loneliness, body image, and anxiety.
A recent study confirmed these outcomes. They found that when randomly assigned to browse Facebook, Instagram, or play a video game, young women in the Instagram group reported decreased positive affect, increased negative affect, and decreased body satisfaction.
Gender Differences: The Experience of Female Teens
Adolescence is an especially difficult stage of life for girls. Thanks to hormonal changes, emotional chaos, and social pressure, this period is challenging at the best of times. Think back to that time and you’ll probably remember complex friendships, zits, mood swings, parental nagging, academics, and a whole host of “firsts.” On top of this, young women now have to contend with another pressure: the need to look picture-perfect. The rise of Instagram has impacted girls more than their male peers. Here are a few reasons why.
Social comparison can be harmful.
Comparison is already a cornerstone of teen life. For decades, television shows and glossy magazines have left young girls wishing they looked different. Today, there are millions of highly filtered, subtly edited images – some posted by their own peers – for teenagers to compare themselves to.
Photo editing runs rampant.
Perfectly curated profiles are a hallmark of the Instagram experience. Editing apps like FaceTune have brought the power of Photoshop to the smartphone. Through a combination of retouching and filters, teens can smooth away skin texture, remove acne spots, and even make their eyes larger.
A British photographer named Rankin sought to explore this through a photo series called “Selfie Harm.” He took a photo of each teen, then asked them to edit their portrait “until it was social media ready.” Clicking through the gallery, the beauty standard of Instagram – large lips, pointed jaws, big eyes, and dramatic cheekbones – is apparent. While Rankin photographed both girls and boys, he stated that the effect was markedly more pronounced among female participants.
Over time, researchers believe that young people acclimate to these idealized, edited versions of their faces. This becomes a precursor to body dysmorphia, which causes negative self-image and intense distress.
Facebook’s own research shows that Instagram negatively affected 1 in 3 girls.
According to the studies leaked by Haugen, 13.5% of teen girls in the U.K. said Instagram worsened suicidal thoughts. They also showed that 17% of teen girls reported that their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram. Finally, one third of girls said that when they felt bad about how their bodies looked, Instagram made it worse.
Helping Teens Overcome the Influence of Social Media
Fortunately, it’s possible to repair the damage done by social media. Through parental support and therapeutic intervention, teens can gradually begin to rebuild their self-esteem. Here are a few tips for fostering confidence in your teenage daughter.
Have Open and Honest Conversations
It’s important to talk to your child about social media and its impact. Discuss the ways in which comparing ourselves to others can be disappointing and upsetting. Use that opportunity to help them recognize that what is online isn’t representative of reality.
Strengthen Their Self-Worth
The teen years are a time of experimentation, growth, and uncertainty. Reinforce that your daughter has special attributes or gifts that contribute to her potential. What is she naturally good at? What does she care about? These talents and passions are much more important than the number of likes she receives on a photo. Let her know!
Monitor Social Media Use
While technology has become integral to daily life, that doesn’t mean its use should be unwatched. Set reasonable limits on social media use. Some parents choose for their children to wait until high school to make an Instagram account. Others do not allow phones at the dinner table or after bedtime. Find the balance that works for your family.
Get Professional Help
If your child has already been affected by social media, help is available. Miami therapeutic consultants Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno are now accepting new clients. As experts in the field of teen mental health, R&A Therapeutic Partners provide the insight and encouragement that teenagers need to heal.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.