YouTube and Instagram might not be healthy for our teens. These social media platforms put forth idealized, edited representations of people in both photograph and video form. Unfortunately, teens can’t always recognize that version of reality as distorted. This can be dangerous in many ways. While self-expression may be beneficial, YouTube and Instagram affect young teens in damaging ways.
The photos and videos posted to YouTube and Instagram create a distorted reality that naive teens easily accept. Users can control the way they look on social media platforms down to minute details. Often, they use advanced editing software to soften skin, alter facial structure, and even make themselves look much thinner. These unrealistic idealizations can have a crushing blow on teen self-esteem. In fact, recent studies connect the rise in Instagram use with a rise in teen plastic surgery.
YouTube and Instagram each have their fair share of social media influencers, which can create a toxic consumerist environment. Brands pay people to promote their products on social media. Also, brands send commitment-free PR packages. These packages contain products brands hope the influencers will use and promote. On top of this, mountains of PR packages are unboxed on camera for all to see. Even children of influencers receive an obscene amount of birthday gifts. Everything is exaggerated on camera. Some teens form unbridled expectations that will never meet up with reality. Also, teens might spend more money than necessary on products they don’t need.
Teens who post on social media — especially Instagram — seek validation by way of the platform’s “like” feature. Perhaps this is why four out of five teens report that Instagram worsens their anxiety. After posting a picture, teens can obsess over how many likes they receive. Some users even check back every few minutes to watch their like count rise or fall. Indeed, several Instagram models have quit social media altogether because of the toxic effects. Plus, an obsession with receiving likes can drive a young teen to post more revealing photos, which can be dangerous.
While these platforms can be dangerous, they are not all bad. Creating an open dialogue with your child about social media can keep them safe, sound and sane. It can also help parents help their children find ways to enjoy YouTube and Instagram safely.
Text by Martha Kendall Custard