DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Controversial discussions regarding whether kids should be using social media have been circulating since the Instagram Kids platform, which is meant for kids under 13, was put on hold.
Pushback against the Instagram Kids app largely began after investigative reports from the Wall Street Journal said Facebook was aware of content on the app that negatively impacted body image for young people, particularly teenage girls.
Julie Stucke, child psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said while kids may like social media for staying in touch with friends, it can subconsciously have an adverse impact on their mental health.
“I think we, as the parents of these kids and as mental health professionals can see that sometimes social media is not great for kids,” she said. “Kids will often compare themselves a lot when they’re looking at pictures that their friends have posted and pictures that their friends have altered or used filters on. You know, these aren’t really realistic, but the teenagers aren’t really taking that into consideration,” she said.
These unrealistic expectations can lead to a distorted body image, mental health issues, and eating disorders, which were among the primary reasons 40 attorneys general across the country formed a group to oppose Instagram Kids earlier in 2021.
“In our world, we have three [eating disorders]. One is called anorexia nervosa, one is called bulimia nervosa and the last one is called binge eating disorder.” said Dr. Steve Taylor, a psychiatrist with Kettering Physician Network. “Anorexia is usually eating too little to maintain an appropriate weight for height and still feeling you’re too fat. So there’s a distortion in terms of how you see yourself. Bulimia on the other hand, is having binges where you’re eating a lot in a very short period of time and feeling like you have no control over what you’re doing, and doing that several times during the week. And in addition to that, doing purging behaviors. This would be like making yourself throw up, or using laxatives inappropriately in order to make up for the weight gain.”
While it’s currently not clear if and when the app for kids will be released, experts says parents and children can consider setting their own boundaries for consuming content online.
“It’s hard to say what’s contributing to what,” said Stucke. “But I would certainly say that social media use, especially excessive use of it, can exacerbate some depression and some anxiety that’s already there.”
Taylor said, “The thing that I try to remind myself when engaging with social media is that if the service is free, you are probably the thing for sale. And I think a lot of times that’s a hard concept for younger folks to grasp. They may know a lot of stuff isn’t real. They may know there’s a lot of avatar going on – that is, what you see isn’t real. But I don’t necessarily know if they’re so keenly aware of how manipulative things are.”
He said one of the most important ways parents can help prevent their tweens and teens from becoming negatively impacted by social media is to talk to them about creating a positive body image. Instead of using social media images as the standard of health or beauty, he said teens may want to consider healthier and more realistic goals, such as body mass index, to determine a healthy weight range.
Stucke said parents may also want to consider having their kids turn in their phones before bed, giving children time to sleep and parents time to monitor their online activities. She said parents should also be modeling the behavior they want their kids to replicate.
“If parents don’t want their kids to be on their phone looking at social media during dinner time, then parents shouldn’t have their phone in their hand during dinner time either.”