We are all aware that social media has an impact on mental health, particularly when it comes to body image. We see the perfect looking bodies, unblemished faces with impossible looking features filling our social media news feeds. But when you’re a teenager, seeing these images along with a developing brain that has a heightened drive for peer approval, is a dangerous combination. There’s a lot that can be triggered by the unrealistic beauty standards that we often see on social media.
However, the relationship between social media and body image is quite complex and is often viewed through a simplistic lens. Research so far has only shown correlational links, one of these being social media and body image concerns.* If you have a teenager yourself though, you may see some damaging, self-degrading or obsessive behaviours or thoughts being expressed in terms of their self-esteem around their body image.
Negative Impact on Mental Health & Wellbeing
For adolescents and young adults, social media can have an impact on body image and perception of beauty; but most importantly it can be used as a contributor to behaviours such as eating disorders and anxiety related conditions.
Despite an overhaul of the industry, and increased inclusivity, education and awareness on this topic, there has been no statistical decrease in the prevalence of body dissatisfaction, body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
Access & Availability
Something that is rapidly shifting is the access and availability of media consumption by adolescents who are now able to use a wide range of social media platforms. We’re talking about Tiktok, Instagram, Snapchat and more. There is also a change in the audience, as everything that is posted online can be viewed by a range of peers and strangers alike. This increasing pressure to appear a certain way on social media for an audience may be a contributing factor in conjunction with the deep-seated need for peer approval.
Positive Impact on Mental Health & Wellbeing
A separate study suggests that it is in fact the way social media is consumed that has the biggest impact on mental health & wellness, as opposed to frequency and duration of use. As long as social media is consumed mindfully it can actually be beneficial and strengthen our social networks, which has positive mental health implications. There are many social media accounts that provide positive affirmations, inspirational quotes and advice on a range of adolescent topics that teens can be directed to, in order to help maintain perspective and a realistic view on body image.
Tips for Managing an Adolescent’s Relationship with Social Media
Setting a good example, and talking with your teen is the best way to introduce limits on how and when they use their devices.
- Model the behaviour you expect to see in your kids when it comes to screen time and social media consumption. Also being aware of how to relate to your own body and physical appearance can have an impact on the behaviours that develop in children.
- Ask them how social media makes them feel and whether or not it causes feelings of stress and/or anxiety.
- Ensure that your kids have a solid understanding of how to stay safe online and the risks associated with sexting, talking with strangers and posting X-rated photos or videos.
- Teach them the 3 W’s. Who is the audience, What message are you trying to send and Why?
- Educate yourself on the various applications that are used by your teens such as Tiktok, Snapchat and Instagram. Having a good understanding means you will be able to have an open discussion if the need arises without being out of your depth.
- Speak to other parents about how they manage social media use.
Angela Skovron specialises in Adolescent Therapy and can offer some practical, tried and tested techniques in helping you navigate social media with your teen. If you’d like to speak with her, please get in touch today.