The effects of social media on body image and disordered eating among adolescents are becoming clear, so it’s important for parents to be aware and take steps to blunt the negative influences.
New studies are showing a pronounced relationship between the content teens consume and how they view themselves, which can lead to unhealthy obsessions and behaviors.
“Having concerns about body image is normal for kids,” Dr. Cole said. “How you want to portray to others may not conform with the way you look. With social media, kids are even more concerned about their image and the image they project.”
Movies and magazines have always created unrealistic ideals, but the image-obsessed online culture has brought us to a new level with Instagram models, photo competitions, glamorized selfies and “thinspiration” sites.
“Visual platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat deliver the tools that allow teens to earn approval for their appearance and compare themselves to others,” author Rachel Simmons wrote in Time magazine. “The most vulnerable users, researchers say, are the ones who spend most of their time posting, commenting on and comparing themselves to photos.”
Dr. Cole said obsession with thinness could lead not only to eating disorders, but also to anxiety and depression.
“Positive body self-image starts at home,” she said. “Parents often have poor self-image and may be constantly dieting and putting themselves down. Kids absorb that.”
Here are ways to wield a positive influence:
- Encourage healthy eating habits and exercise, and praise kids for doing it.
- Show admiration for your kids’ nonphysical attributes.
- Model a healthy self-image. Encourage acceptance of different body types.
- Identify good role models.
- Encourage kids to focus on legitimate online sources of information, not sites that peddle unhealthy advice and promote extreme body standards.
- If your child becomes obsessed about changing his or her body, see a doctor. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get in shape or shed some excess weight, but keep an eye out for extreme behavior.
“It may be very difficult for some people to attain the body they want without great genetics or very restrictive diets, and that can present problems,” Dr. Cole said. “If there aren’t health concerns, there is no bad body type. You are who you are.”