Social media is a big source of worry for parents of teenagers and body image has slowly become a big source of worry for teenagers.
Parents are concerned about cyberbullies, online predators, and they may even worry about unscrupulous companies collecting their teen’s data.
The problems that teens experience due to social media are less obvious and more subtle. For instance, social media can have a real impact on a teen’s body image, especially if they already suffer from body image issues or body dysmorphia.
Take a look at what you need to know about helping your teen navigate social media without exacerbating body image issues.
How Social Media Impacts Body Image
Social media has a lot of wonderful benefits for many people, including teenagers. A couple examples include:
- Connecting people with niche interests.
- Providing a means of socialization for people who have difficulty socializing in person, due to geographical isolation, disability, social anxiety, or other reasons.
- Helping direct people to support groups and other resources that can help them with various life challenges.
But social media spaces can also cause a lot of anxiety, especially for teens worried about their own body image. Teens who follow a lot of celebrities, models, fitness gurus, or influencers often get a mistaken impression about what those people really look like and by extension, what they themselves should look like.
Even when teens know that the people they follow are using filters, photoshop, and other tools to make themselves look thinner or more fit or to disguise various flaws, it can be difficult to remember that when they’re actually looking at those pictures. Teens can be encouraged to start new diets or exercise excessively in an attempt to make themselves look like the people who are influencing them online.
For some teens, this can result in anything from a few days or weeks of unhealthy eating choices while following the latest fad diet to an actual, full-fledged eating disorder. And when teens try to measure what they see in the mirror against the pictures that they see on Instagram, the result can be damaging to their self-esteem and mental and emotional health.
A perfectly healthy, attractive teenager can fall prey to this phenomenon.
Talk to Your Teen About Social Media and Body Image
So, what’s the solution? Should teens just stay off of social media? Should parents monitor everything their child looks at? Or is there another path?
Realistically, you probably can’t keep your child off of social media entirely. For one thing, forbidding a teen to do something is often the best way to ensure that they keep doing it – just behind your back where you don’t know what’s actually going on.
And what’s more, social media isn’t all bad. It may be doing harm in some ways, but helping in others, so cutting it off entirely could cause other problems.
Monitoring what your teen is looking at and who they’re following is a great idea, but you probably won’t see everything without becoming overly intrusive, and it can be hard to know exactly which posts or images are responsible for causing body images anyway.
Instead, your best bet is to have conversations with your teenager. Talk to them about what they are looking at online and ask them how they feel about it.
Point out to your teen (or remind them) that flawless bodies are usually more a result of good photo editing skills, not a magical diet or exercise routine. Check in with your teen frequently.
You also want to find ways to encourage them to feel good about their body. For example, it can help to remind your teen to think about the things their body can do, not the way it looks.
You should also help your teen make the connection between what they see online and how they feel about their body. Once they understand that the images that they’re looking at may be influencing their feelings, you can help them devise strategies to deal with that.
The FACE Strategy
FACE is an acronym for a collection of strategies that can help your teen navigate social media while minimizing harm to themselves from viewing images that affect the way they feel about themselves or their bodies.
F – Filter
The “F” in FACE stands for Filter – as in filtering out media and interactions that are hurtful or harmful.
If a certain influencer’s account consistently triggers feelings of inadequacy in your teen, they can filter it out by unfollowing that account or even blocking it from showing up in their feed at all.
They can also filter out people who make upsetting or degrading comments to them or others if seeing those comments upsets them.
A – Avoid
The “A” is for Avoid – as in avoiding social media at times.
Even if there’s not a specific person or account that’s bothering your teen, too much social media can be harmful in and of itself.
However, social media platforms are set up to keep users online and scrolling through their feeds.
They’re intentionally designed in a way that encourages users to stay on the platform, so it helps for teens to learn to be intentional about putting the device down or turning it off and taking a break, especially when they start feeling sad or having upsetting or disturbing thoughts.
C – Comparing
“C” is about Comparing, namely being careful of comparing themselves to others.
The reality is that most people – including influencers, celebrities, other teenagers, and probably even your teenager – are only posting the things that make them look their best.
They aren’t posting pictures of themselves when they have the flu, or selfies that turned out looking silly instead of sexy.
Teach your teen to keep in mind everything they aren’t seeing on social media, and to avoid comparing their regular, everyday self to someone else’s perfect shot.
E – Evaluating
And “E” is about Evaluating.
This is important for parents, who should be regularly evaluating the types of things that their child is seeing online and how those things are affecting them. But it’s also important for teens themselves.
Social media has its disadvantages, especially when it comes to body image.
But the involvement of caring parents and other adults and the development of smart strategies for viewing and interacting with social media can help teens avoid the pitfalls.