Having recently climbed aboard the social media train by setting up an Instagram account (with the assistance of a knowledgable teenager!) I’ve been given a new window into how social media can impact on the well-being of our daughters. According to an article by Sally Brown in Therapy Today magazine (Feb 2020), an analysis of 41 global studies by Kings College, London found a direct link between Smartphone use and mental health issues, the most strongly affected being girls aged 17 – 19.
I’ve made a deal with myself to really limit my posts – I’ve experienced the powerful pull that Instagram can have – but that doesn’t stop me browsing through others! In a flash, half an hour vanishes and we’ve not really achieved except in doing the thing that makes us feel frustrated with others; losing ourselves in images on a screen. Once understanding how to post is mastered, the temptation is in finding the right image, getting the text just so, in order to elicit a positive response. It’s all about those likes and followers, though as a grown-up I should be equipped to notice these compulsions, and manage them mindfully.
For many teen girls though, this can so easily become a means through which they think about themselves; a post that doesn’t get enough likes can ruin the day, affect self-confidence and ultimately resilience, leading to anxiety, depression, poor sleep and having an impact on school performance. Girls post many more images of themselves than boys do, and while they know that others have carefully picked and enhanced images, this doesn’t stop them from comparing others’ images with how they are feeling inside.
Through my therapy and writing for well-being work I come into contact with the stories of so many young people for whom social media has had a compounding negative effect. If our children have had a healthy, balanced and ‘good enough’ start in life with encouragement to explore and pursue interests and passions that get them outside, mixing with others in real-life and building their resilience, hopefully this provides enough of an antidote to stave off the negative effects of social media. But with those for whom the seeds of anxiety, stress, negative body-image or struggles in socialising were sown earlier on, it’s clear to see how platforms like Instagram could reinforce over-catastrophising and low self-esteem.
On a positive note, the author reports that Instagram has been trialling hiding ‘likes’ from user’s posts. Also that an organisation called ‘The Female Lead’ conducted research into social media use among 14 – 17 year olds to see if the practice of following high-achieving and aspirational women could have a positive impact on girls who predominantly follow fashion, beauty and celebrities. The great news was that participating girls felt inspired and energised, with a positive effect on how they thought about themselves. There’s a strong message here that more inspirational women’s stories could be taught in schools; the article states that in relating to these successful women girls conversations shifted from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I might’ and ‘I could’.