Two teens drinking from plastic cups

Is Social Media Causing Body Image Issues for Your Child?

by Screen Time Team on 22/09/2021

Overview: Evidence is beginning to emerge that social media can negatively impact body image, even when teens are confronted with direct evidence that Instagram sets unrealistic expectations. It can also be difficult to filter altered images from real ones. This is best counteracted by focusing teens away from false representations and towards healthy approaches to their bodies. 

Social Media And Body Image

While there’s no “one-to-one” equivalence between viewing idealized bodies on social media and struggles with self-esteem, it’s increasingly clear that there’s a link between the two. It’s key to remember that a negative body image is tied to setting unrealistic goals for your body against an ideal. That ideal could be a ripped athlete, a doe-eyed influencer, or anything in between.

Adding to the problem is that subtle enhancements can be made to images to disguise skin blemishes, enhance musculature, and create more extensive modifications. Even the angle of the camera can dramatically change how the body looks. This can be hard to notice even for trained professionals, and remember, few of us look closely at social media posts to pick out signs of editing. 

Over time, this “endless scroll” of “perfect” bodies can hammer away at even the most well-adjusted teen’s self-esteem. Parents should not assume that well-meaning campaigns like “Instagram vs. Reality” or pointing out the trickery behind these images will help. It’s difficult to keep this in mind while you’re scrolling through.

Instead, tweens and teens need help in the real world dealing with Snapchat or Instagram and body image.

Establishing A Healthy Body Image

  • Be open in discussing the effects of growing up on the body. Puberty will cause body changes, and many kids will gain weight. They need to understand that these changes are natural and hardly permanent.
  • Encourage your kids to apply critical thinking to what they see in the media, social and otherwise. What’s the post trying to get them to do? Like and subscribe? Buy a product? Share the image with other people? This type of discussion can create a remove for your child. Over time, it will help foster a realization about the ugly reality behind pretty images.
  • Model a good example. Adults can struggle with body image as much as kids do. Working to accept your own body will show them that this is normal and how to handle it in a healthy manner. Don’t criticize yourself or others or obsess on social media. Instead, focus on what you’re doing and what’s important.
  • Focus on realistic goals for healthy diet and exercise. Very few of us are going to have ripped abs or a narrow waist no matter how hard we work at it, but that shouldn’t be the goal of eating right or exercising. If kids understand the goal is to have fun and stay healthy, not to shed pounds or gain muscle, they’ll be more likely to stick to it.
  • Keep an eye out for cyberbullying. Unfortunately, bullies are a common problem on social media. Teach your kids how to mute, block, and report bullies rather than taking their comments to heart.

How Screen Time Can Help

Encouraging kids to spend less time interacting with social media is a positive for their future selves. With Screen Time, you can set healthy limits to help your family members stick to their schedules, keep apps that are eroding their self-esteem off their devices, and give you ways to ease tweens and teens into more mature device usage. That’s why healthy habits start with Screen Time. 

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