We all know social media isn’t great for our health. Terms like fomo (fear of missing out) have been made to describe the feelings of anxiety these platforms can create & we’re learning more about how addictive these tools can be.
A new study coming out of the UK is now showing just how much social media can impact our body image. The study looked at over 10,000 teens and found that females are more impacted by social media than males. The study found that 96% of teen girls use social media v. 90% of teen boys. The study also found that teen girls who were moderate (3 hours or more a day of social media) to heavy (5+ hours a day of social media use) developed depression, poor school performance and increased poor body image at 2x the rate as teenage boys. But before you step…away…from…your…phone…we can’t blame social media (or the media alone) for poor body image or developing an eating disorder. Experts tell us body image & eating disorders are developed because of a mix of genetics, personal experiences and culture. However if you are struggling with your body image or relationship with food you may benefit from putting some boundaries around your social media use. Here are some suggested guidelines for how to use social media in a balanced and body positive way. These ideas can work for either parents setting guidelines with their kids or adults that are wondering how that screen time may be affecting their body image and mental health.
- Limit time on social media to no more than 30 minutes a day.
- Have an open conversation with your teen about the media/body image. This can be tough when you’re struggling with your own body image. Try watching one of the suggested films with your child (below) to get the conversation started. A one-time conversation is great but an ongoing dialogue about body image and expectations can be one of the best things you can do to protect your child against developing poor body image and/or an eating disorder. These conversations can happen spontaneously such as when you are watching TV or during a car ride driving past billboards.
- Minimize the amount of time your teen is alone with social media. This may mean no more computer or TV in your child’s bedroom.
- Erase any social media accounts that have a negative impact on your body image or mental health. For parents this may mean supervising your child’s social media use and having an ongoing conversation about the impact of social media. Watch out for (and eliminate) any #proana, #thinsperation or “what I ate this week”, “How I lost x amount of pounds” type posts. For a boost of body positivity try checking out instagrammers such as Ashley Graham, Taryn Brumfitt or Jess Baker.
Parents and teens may also benefit from developing social media literacy skills (our ability to be more critical of the media and how it impacts our body image & mental health). Here are two of my favorite videos to get you started;
Killing us Softly 4 by Jeane Kilbourne https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnAY6S4_m5I This 30 minute video looks at advertising and the subtle messages about gender, violence and body image we see daily
Embrace https://bodyimagemovement.com/embrace-the-documentary/ this is a documentary by social media Rockstar Taryn Brumfitt that looks at the issue of body image across the world
If you’d like to check out the original study click here; https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-018-5220-4