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How Instagram and Snapchat Filters are Harming Our Kids Mental Health

snapchat and instagram mental health

What Are Filter Apps Doing to Our Mental Health? An Alarming New Trend All Parents Need to Know

Tweens and teens live in the virtual land of social media, and the trend of selfies has taken over the internet.

Our kids are not the only ones posting pictures on social media, but adults have joined the masses in sharing their own photos too. Whether people want to share exciting news, special events, or capture special moments with friends, it’s all posted for the digital world to see.

But there is even something more insidious, the endless options to create the perfect image, altering anything we may not like about our appearance. With Photoshop, Facetune, and Snapchat filters, people can not only add puppy ears or princess crowns to their heads, they can also tweak physical features to transform people into how they want to be seen, rather than how they look in real life.

The filtered virtual world holds a new standard for selfies with an incredibly high bar for beauty, and everybody’s buying into it.

Our tweens and teens are learning that in order to get attention and praise, they need to alter their appearance to be as close to perfect as possible. They scrutinize every detail of their image and obsess over how to make it look better, how to make their image appear as gorgeous as all the others they see on social media.

Their filtered virtual identity can distort their realistic perception of their appearance and skew their ability to discern the difference between what is real and what isn’t. This sets our kids up for a double life: One in real life and the other in a fabricated filtered fantasy.

Seeing other picture-perfect online images of friends and celebrities only fuels this new superficial landscape of lies. There is no reality in the virtual world, when it comes to sharing who you really are and what you really look like. Their filtered virtual identity can distort their realistic perception of their appearance and skew their ability to discern the difference between what is real and what isn’t. This sets our kids up for a double life: One in real life and the other in a fabricated filtered fantasy.

Before the digital age, photographs were taken sparingly during special events and celebrations. The exposure to the good old-fashioned selfies was limited to opening up those photo albums or placing pictures in frames, or taping them on bulletin boards or refrigerators. These days, people are living in a world of constant exposure to their photos, as their images glare back at them on the screen all day, every day.

We are a culture immersed in constantly viewing images of ourselves and others.

And there is a problem with that.

When people continue to see the perfect edited and filtered image of themselves, their reality becomes distorted. The discrepancy between what they see in the mirror versus what they view on the screen can mislead people down a path of no return.

The more people see their image, the more they will scrutinize the details, obsess over them, and want to change them for good. This can lead to “Body Dysmorphic Disorder”. Body dysmorphic disorder is defined as “an excessive preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance, classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. Those with BDD often go to great lengths to hide their imperfections … and may visit dermatologists or plastic surgeons frequently, hoping to change their appearance.”

Plastic surgeons are now seeing more patients coming to them with pictures of their filtered selfies asking to make them appear like that in real life. This growing phenomenon now earned the name “Snapchat Dysphoria”.

In a recent set of statistics from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 55% of facial plastic surgeons reported seeing patients who wanted to improve how they looked in selfies in 2017, a 13% increase over the previous year.

What can parents do?

Set an Example

It may seem like a runaway train parents can’t stop as the virtual velocity gains speed, but they can set an example for their kids and be aware of their own online behavior and the filters used on their own selfies. How much are parents relying on these editing apps and what are parents demonstrating about their feelings of their own appearance? Kids aren’t the only ones sharing filtered selfies, but adults, us parents, post them too.


Be Vigilant

Parents must also be vigilant in keeping a close eye on their kids’ posts on social media and discuss with them what editing apps they use for their pictures and why. Keeping a close eye on their online behavior and how they present themselves will give parents insights about how their kids want to look and how far they’ll go to present a ‘better version’ of themselves.


Keep Talking

Parents need to pay close attention to their kids’ opinion of their unfiltered appearance. It’s important to have an ongoing dialogue about the difference between what is real and not real and where their kids are placing their value and worth. Point out the outrageous falsehood of the phenomenon of filtered photographs and remind your tween or teen that the distorted images do not represent reality or true beauty.


Limit Screen Time

Tweens and teens are vulnerable to succumb to the belief that their filtered online appearance defines who they are and the likes and comments become their confirmation and direction in their developing identity. Parents must address this double-life existence by setting limits on their kids’ screen time and helping their kids get involved in activities outside of the virtual world.

The more kids can experience real life by engaging in activities like sports, clubs, youth groups, creative arts, or community service, the less dependent they will be of the virtual version. The more kids engage off the screen with no lens to filter who they are, the more opportunities they will have to discover their intrinsic abilities and develop an accurate measure of self-worth.

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