Instagram and teenagers – is it safe?

I have two daughters who are big social media fans. My son isn’t, thankfully, but I know from my nephews that boys are affected too. I have always been concerned about the influences around them to do with body image and self-esteem, but, unfortunately, parents do not have as much control over these influences anymore. With the growth and impact of social media, we have lost the ability to protect them like we used to. I have watched and learned and I can tell you for certain that the most dangerous combination of all is Instagram and teenagers.

For those of you who are not familiar with Instagram, it started out as a platform to showcase great photography. This was usually in the form of scenery, impressive destinations, buildings or clever camera angles and so on.

Being ‘Instagram worthy’

Instagram was a great idea… the beginning. Then it slowly morphed into a platform to showcase photographs of yourself. That is pretty, sexy and unrealistically happy pictures, to confirm you are gorgeous and insanely contented. Nothing short of perfect is acceptable and young people will spend hours planning and practising to get the perfect shot that is considered ‘Instagram worthy”. You just have to have a quick scroll through any Instagram account to see what message it is giving our vulnerable, young people.

Is Instagram safe?

It is worryingly simply to set up an Instagram account, usually on a phone and free of charge. Instantly you can post photos of yourself for your friends to see. You ‘follow’ the accounts of others, including celebrities, creating a constant commentary of how perfect everyone else’s lives are.

As a post is published the ‘likes’ start coming in, or not. The total is broadcast under each image for your friends to see. Young people watch obsessively, hoping to get enough likes to feel worthy, and creating an insatiable need to improve to compete with those that have received more.

High levels of anxiety and depression

Not surprisingly, research on Instagram and teenagers shows that this process causes high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and the ‘fear of missing out’. In fact, this desire to get ‘likes’ has put such an intense pressure on children, that an increasing number of girls (and boys) are posting Instagram images of themselves in their underwear in a desperate attempt to be noticed.

Celebrity Influence

Following the lives of the rich and famous adds to the feelings of inadequacy. Young people are being bombarded with images of celebrities with their unrealistically perfect bodies, clothes, and lifestyle, believing it to be the norm. It is not surprising to read that this is having a detrimental effect on their mental health and well-being. As adults, we recognise that most of these images are false, filtered and photoshopped, however, vulnerable youngsters are more easily influenced no matter what you tell them.

Is Instagram Safe?

The Royal Society for Public Health was recently quoted as saying that ‘social media may be fuelling a mental health crisis’ with Instagram ‘worse for young mental health’. Most of them will get through it and come out of the other side able to see the world as it really is. I hope my daughters do. But many don’t. A young person’s mental health can be seriously affected short and long-term by the constant feeling of inadequacy they face and it is not surprising. Is Instagram safe? No – Instagram has a LOT to answer for.

BBC News ‘Instagram worst for young mental health’

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