This week, there has been a lot of news regarding a new study that came out in the UK examining the impact of social media on the mental health of children and teens. The study, entitled #StatusOfMind, found that Instagram and Snapchat were the two platforms with the most negative influence on youth.
To be honest, I do not find the results surprising. As children move from childhood into adolescence, the influence of social variables (e.g., friends, peers, media, etc.) becomes more prominent on self-identity than the role that parents and family play. Therefore, teens look at those around them and decide who they want to look like, act like, and be like. A psychological process that comes into play in this transition is social comparison. In basic terms, social comparison is the notion that when there is no objective criteria that exists for something (e.g. beauty, what cool is, etc.) individuals are motivated to evaluate their characteristics and abilities by comparing themselves to others.
Therefore, something like Instagram is particularly designed for this comparison to occur numerous of times, as the user can scroll and look at various pictures posted by other users. In addition, the very notion of Instagram is to upload the best looking images and videos; the program even helps you to improve on real life by offering filters and editing options. As a result, any person who uses Instagram for an extended period of time is potentially viewing thousands of images with which to compare themselves. The more a person feels they do not measure up to the standard they want to meet (e.g. thinness, toned body, places they go and people they hang out with), the worse the person ends up feeling about themselves.
The obvious recommendations I would make to parents is to limit the amount of time their youth uses these platforms and to closely monitor what they are consuming via these services. It is also crucial to be conscious and aware of the types of messages your child may be portraying through these images, and to take serious any signs of distress. One other crucial thing a parent can do, is to guide the youth to develop a sense of identity, autonomy, and sense of accomplishment outside of anything that is portrayed and emphasized on these platforms. This means having them engage in a variety of extra-curricular activities such as sports, arts, and volunteering opportunities. Finally, as parents, I think it is important to pay attention to the language that our children use. Do they easily get discouraged or do they turn on themselves after small disappointments? Do they use 'absolutes' when describing themselves following these disappointments, such as saying "I never" or "I always"? If so, use these as teachable moments to help them move away from such extreme ways of thinking.
Here is a link to the site that reviews the results: