What the Tech? Does Instagram Make Teenagers Feel Worse about Themselves?
Instagram’s algorithm works the same as Facebook. If you search for something or like certain posts, you’re likely going to see more of it popping up in the feed. While that’s fine if the subject matter is good, it can be harmful to kids already dealing with their own problems.
“Teenagers obviously know their flaws. They feel them,” says Mommy blogger and podcaster Ali Wolf. She’s no critic of Instagram. On the contrary, she likes it a lot.
And as a frequent user, she knows what it can be like for teenagers already feeling bad about themselves. Particularly, those
who are self-conscious about how they look.
“I think it’s very challenging to see the difference between your offline life,” she said. What you experience and what you maybe don’t like about yourself. And then you see these perfect images and it looks like reality.”
A study by the research group “Sum of Us”, found 22 different hashtags that promote eating disorders, 22 million posts promoting plastic surgery. I found over 7.6 million posts using the hashtag “skinny”, which includes thousands of photos of girls in bikinis, guys with abs. The study by Sum of Us found many of those posts promote eating disorders.
Even more disturbing is if a teenager who’s already depressed searches for posts about depression, they’re seeing dozens of other posts from users with mental health issues. One such post I found after about 15 seconds was from someone talking about killing themselves.
To its credit, when searching for something that may be harmful, Instagram offers a pop-up message with links to help speak to someone, however; users can still bypass that option and choose to see all of the results of the post.
Wolf told me, she took a break from Instagram after realizing she was spending way too much time on it.
“It came a time I realized I was feeling negative and I was sucked in and I was getting caught up in comparison,” she said. “But for me as an adult, I’m able to police myself and recognize I should pull back if I’m feeling negative.”
Instagram can be a fun platform to share images with your friends and for most users, it is enjoyable and harmless, but if you suspect your teenager or pre-teen is depressed or has low self-esteem already and they’re spending lots of time on any social media platform, it may be wise to talk to them. They may be seeing posts that are making them feel worse, not better.