What started as a platform to share photography has now become a useful marketing tool for businesses of all sizes. With 1 billion people using Instagram every month, it’s no wonder people are using it as a go-to advertising platform.
There are plenty of reasons people love using Instagram such as staying connected to others, scoping out new destinations to visit, and self-expression.
However, social media can sometimes cause unnecessary comparisons, dissatisfaction with life, and a feeling of being left out. With suicide rates being associated with social media use, it’s more important than ever for parents to have tools under their belt. In a time when teens are desperately trying to fit in and find their place in the world, it’s clear that social media can harm their self-esteem and mental health.
How can we address the problem of social media and teen mental health? It’s time for parents to get involved and tackle teen mental health at home. While mental health is a complex issue, parents can safeguard their teens’ well-being with healthy social media practices. Here’s how you can make sure your kids have a healthy relationship with social media and a thriving life outside of their screens.
1. Show them what’s real and what’s fake. Social media distorts reality. Snapchat and Instagram filters are fun, but they can quickly warp our sense of what’s real. Take a photo and show your teen how filters are added to make photos look a certain way. Talk about how lighting, tones, and Photoshop affect an image. Show your teen FaceTune and other apps that allow you to alter and blur imperfections on the face or body. This allows you to alter your physique and create an unrealistic image for social media.
This sounds obvious, but many teens don’t realize that social media is full of almost exclusively edited images. They can learn to manage their expectations as they scroll through their feed, preserving their sense of self-esteem by avoiding unrealistic comparisons.
2. Encourage teens to live in the moment. Social media is great to stay in touch with friends and family—when used in moderation. Most of us like to indulge in social media from time to time, but it’s a recipe for losing time. Social media makes us feel like we aren’t living in the moment. We’re either caught up with other people’s Instagram posts or worrying about what we’ll post next to get the most likes.
While it feels like we’re connected with other people on social media, it’s a way to escape real-world social interactions. Studies show that excessive social media use can make a person feel more isolated and depressed. Set a limit on your child’s phone for social media apps. Experts suggest limiting teens’ social media use to no more than 30 minutes per day.
And instead of plugging into social media for hours on end, encourage your child to get involved with activities, like sports or school clubs, that help them feel part of a group. It’s these social interactions that will help your teen feel accepted and happy, not taking selfies on Snapchat.
3. Invest in your parent-child relationship. Adults are just as guilty as teens when it comes to social media use. Don’t let screens be a substitute for a face-to-face relationship with your child. Lead by example. Limit your time on social media and stop obsessing over your Instagram likes. Give your teen love and attention without documenting it on Snapchat or anywhere else online. Show that life happens outside of Instagram. Demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance when you talk to your teen, especially when they’re feeling low. If they’re feeling sad, validate their feelings and understand their disappointment.
Allow your home to be a safe place where they can talk about their feelings. This opens the door to positive conversations about self-esteem and their identity, which can help with early intervention to preserve teen health.
Social media is an important tool in teens’ lives, but parents have to set healthy expectations and practices. Together we can prevent self-harm and suicide by spotting unrealistic images, setting social media boundaries, and investing in our personal relationships.
For more resources about responsible social media use for teens and children, check out Common Sense Media.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the free and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.