Tweens are often exposed to false messages on social media about how their bodies should look. Here’s pro advice for giving them an influencer reality check.
Many tweens become the proud owners of their first smartphones just as they’re hitting puberty, that delicate time when their bodies begin to change and take shape. It’s a confusing time to say the least, but even more so when you add social media to the mix. Photo-sharing sites like Instagram are populated with heavily edited and filtered posts, promoting body images that are unrealistic and virtually unattainable to our kids.
“Unfortunately, when impressionable young people are exposed to frequent images of bodies that are idealized but may not be representative of the average person, it can cause them to have negative feelings about their own body or themselves,” says Dr. Nusheen Ameenuddin, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media.
Facebook’s own internal research, published in the Wall Street Journal last year, has shown the negative impacts of these images, specifically on teens. The company reported that 32 percent of teen girls and 14 percent of teen boys felt worse about their bodies after spending time on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook).
Instagram has since pledged to use this research to improve its platform, but until that day comes (if ever), parents should check in with how their tweens are consuming these images and discuss their lack of authenticity.
“I think it’s important to talk openly and honestly with kids and to give them tools to be able to deconstruct media through media literacy and understand that most of these images are trying to sell a lifestyle or a specific product, not reflect reality,” says Dr. Ameenuddin.
Dr. Ameenuddin offers the following advice for sparking these conversations:
Jump into your kid’s online world. “Parents should have access to their child’s account for safety reasons but also so they can talk about what they’re seeing,” she says. Of course, you can renegotiate boundaries and more privacy as they get older, but at the impressionable age of tweens, it’s important to discuss media as a family rather than letting kids face the social media jungle alone. “If parents are noticing that it’s affecting their child’s mood, sleep or schoolwork, it’s a good idea to set some limits about time and type of media consumed, which is good advice for anyone, but particularly important if you’re seeing changes in your child that may indicate something more serious.”
Learn how Circle can help you filter, limit, and curate your family’s online access
Look at social media together. Point out that even what you see on Instagram from “regular“ people is a very small percentage of what their reality looks like. “One picture on Instagram can take hours to set up, prepare for and adjust after the fact. It’s also likely one of dozens of photos, most of which would not have made the cut. Explaining to kids that what they see on social media and traditional media is not a realistic image can be helpful,” says Dr. Ameenuddin.
Share family photos or more realistic images. Sometimes, sharing family photographs or unretouched photographs of people can help reset a sense of what normal, non-idealized people look like. Perhaps try a photo project together, like a scrapbook or family tree.
Nurture your kid’s self-esteem. “Parents can help nurture healthy self-esteem in their children by acknowledging their accomplishments, praising them when they do something well, including when they have tried hard, even if the outcome is not exactly what they expected,” she says. A healthy sense of self, in fact, means being realistic and considering the needs of others. “This means acknowledging that no one is going to be the best at something and that sometimes other people will be more skilled than you are, but that’s OK. We each have unique talents and a combination of qualities that can help us contribute good things to the rest of the world.”
Finally, introduce your kids to healthier role models and online content. There are many body positive influencers who are posting “real” images and promoting realistic and healthy lifestyles. Spend time with your tween and discover some that you can both agree are positive accounts to follow.