A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a Wellness Expo at a Bay Area high school on the topic of social media and specifically how it impacts our teens' health. Now, you might be thinking, "How the heck does social media impact health? Is it that you don’t exercise as much if you are on it? I don’t really get it…"
Put simply, social media impacts your brain and therefore your mental health. According to a study done by Common Sense Media, the average U.S. high school teen spends “about nine hours using media for their enjoyment” and the average middle schooler spends 6 hours a day on media. This includes listening to music, texting, going on Snapchat or Instagram, watching TV, etc. What this doesn’t include is the extra time your teen spends on the Internet doing homework.
That’s more time than teens spend in school each day, often more time than they spend at home, and more time than many of them are sleeping each night. So media is the number one thing teens spend time on—in other words, it’s really, really, really impacting their brain development. Social media and the messages it conveys are one of the biggest influencers on teen’s brain and therefore their views about themselves and the world.
What are some of the messages that teens get from social media?
Basically, every time a teen girl scrolls through her Snapchat stories or Instagram feed, she is getting the message that who she is isn’t good enough and she needs to look outside of herself for validation and acceptance.
So what's the impact of those messages? The average girl’s self-esteem peaks at age 9. Fifty-three percent of 13-year-olds are unhappy with their bodies and that number jumps to 78% by the time they are 17. Depression rates have doubled among women between 2000 and 2010. And 17% of teens engage in self-injurious behaviors (although I have to believe this number is sadly on the rise).
While social media can have many positive effects, overall in today’s society, it can be pretty freakin' toxic to your self-esteem and mental health.
So what can you do? Well, most teens aren’t going to cut their social media use completely or stop following Kylie Jenner on Instagram; it’s just not realistic in today’s day and age. But one great thing you can do is balance out the negative messages with some positive ones. My rule of thumb: For every celebrity account you follow on Instagram or Snapchat, follow a positive, inspiring, or uplifting account. That way, when you scroll through your Instagram feed of the Kardashians and T-Swift, you see an inspiring quote telling you that you are good enough just as you are, or you see an adorable dog that makes you laugh, or you see a woman owning her beauty and curves, or you see a rockstar businesswoman telling you to follow your dreams. This helps interrupt the negative messages and they don’t take as much of a toll on your brain. Instead, by following positive accounts, you get to rewire your brain towards positive thoughts—like giving yourself some compassion, knowing you are beautiful and amazing, and not letting anyone tell you otherwise.
And that’s why every Friday, I’ll be posting an “Inspiring Instagram” account to check out. If you like it—follow it! If not, no worries and at least you got a bit of positivity in your day.
So, drumroll please….
Today’s “Inspiring Instagram” to check out is @beauty_redefined.
They describe themselves as a “Nonprofit teaching positive body image since '09 thru online ed & speaking 💗 Run by twins Lindsay & Lexie Kite, PhD.” I love this inspirational account because it posts fantastic and thought-provoking quotes from celebrities about fostering self-acceptance and redefining beauty. Check it out here: https://www.instagram.com/beauty_redefined/.
Do you have any Instagram or Snapchat accounts you follow that are inspiring, positive, or uplifting? I’d love to know and am always down for some positivity! In the comments below, tell me the positive accounts you love to follow, and one Friday, your suggestion could be sent to teens and families across the country.
You are awesome, and happy Friday!
I am a teen-empowerment coach. I work with teen girls, ages 14-17, who struggle with self-acceptance, perfectionism, seeking attention from others, and deep sadness or anger.