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The Instagram Effect: Body Image

The Instagram Effect: Body Image

If you know what Instagram is, then you likely have a child between 10 and 18. Instagram has been around for a while but since it’s still going strong, we think it’s worth talking about.

However, this won’t be a debate about if our child should be on social media or not. We’ll have to save that for another day. Our kids will be on social media eventually so we’ve (personally) always taken the stance that we’d rather train them about it instead of simply banning it.

We encourage all parents to be on whatever social media platform your kids are on. (Sorry, folks, Facebook doesn’t count since that is an “old people” platform.) You should know what is happening in your kid’s social media world and how it works.

To be honest, some of it is frightening. And it’s impacting our kids in ways that we probably haven’t even begun to understand.

For years, body image has been an issue among young people. Photoshopped magazines and movie stars still project unrealistic body expectations. But now the pressure is coming from everyone at their school and in their community too. Scroll through a teen girl’s feed and you’ll find dozens and dozens of bikini-clad girls, all in competition to get the most “likes” on their photos.

But those bikini-body pics may be hard to take for girls or guys who aren’t built as perfectly as others. Before Instagram, a teen might only see their friends in bathing suits at a pool party. Now, they are confronted every single day, all summer long.

It’s not just summertime that can be a problem, though. It’s fashion pressure and posts about what clothes and stores are most desirable. It’s material pressure and posts about brand new cars or electronics or other material things kids are showing off. It’s friendship pressure when you see one friend hanging out with your other friend . . . without you. It’s relationship pressure when everyone else seems to have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

It’s easy to say “Don’t worry about those things!” but that’s not going to help your child have the tools to navigate these very real pressures. So jump into the fray with your kids and talk about what they’re seeing. Here are some tips as you do:

Focus on Character

Yes, someone might have a great body or a new car or a ton of gifts, but what is that person like? What things really matter? Are they kind? Giving? Caring? If they’re not, then who cares how many “things” they have. Give your child a goal to strive for—character—that really matters, and help them measure everything against that.

Focus on Gratitude

It’s easy to get down about the thousand and one things you don’t have, but all it takes is a re-aligning of your focus to change that. Help them find things to be grateful for and encourage them to document those things.

Look for Real Role Models

Help your kids notice real people in their lives that have qualities they admire. A teacher or a neighbor or even someone they don’t know who provides encouragement online. There are great young people out there to steer your kids towards that are doing a great job in pop culture. Young women like Sadie Robertson are more well-known, but there are many more “everyday heroes” out there than we realize. Hunt for them!

Give Instagram a Break

Sometimes unplugging is the best thing to do when the pressure is just too much. Realize that not all kids can find the words to describe that pressure, so ask questions to see if they’re feeling pressure.

Did that hurt your feelings?

Did that make you feel jealous?

Did that make you feel left out?

These are all feelings that can be hard to talk about for some kids. If they struggle, then limiting social media time can be helpful for their mental health.

Enough is Enough

If your child seems sullen or withdrawn or won’t talk at all, don’t ignore that and assume the behavior will pass. Or if there are other symptoms like grades dropping suddenly, or drastic changes in behavior, step in and get them to a counselor before things get worse. It’s never too early to get some extra help.

Let us know if you have a topic you’d like us to discuss. Drop us a line anytime!

By: Jeff and Sarah Sumpolec have been married for 19 years and Jeff has been a therapist in private practice for more than 10 years. They have three daughters together and Sarah writes for and speaks to teens. Visit them at www.sarahannesumpolec.com.

Join us at www.just18summers.com for our parenting blog each Monday-Friday and for info about the Just 18 Summers novel.

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