If you’ve ever handed a smartphone or tablet to a toddler who just wouldn’t quiet down or found yourself trying to regulate the amount of time your children spend online, you know that the digital lives of children are in equal measure a profound source of promise and peril.
While questions about screen time are a perennial favorite topic when it comes to children, and in no way trivial, there are some much darker issues that merit discussion, but seldom make it through the din that makes the digital world such a treacherous place for young people.
#5 Body Shaming
When Frances Haugen decided to go public about toxic business practices at Meta (then called Facebook), it came as no surprise to anyone with a teenager in their orbit. Studies have consistently linked excessive social media use with unhealthy eating behaviors and disorders as well as the psychological fallout associated with the persistent negative body image messages that are encountered on Instagram and TikTok.
A large part of the blame falls on the algorithms used by Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks to keep users “doom scrolling” for as long as possible.
A data analysis from German non-profit organization Algorithm Watch found that Instagram heavily favored and featured semi-nude images of both men and women, with underwear or bikini-clad images of women 54 percent more likely to be featured than images of fully clothed women.
While this may not necessarily be intentional, it does set up an unhealthy environment for adolescents who are especially focused on their changing bodies. Creating a situation where “sexy” images are rewarded with more attention, likes and followers sends a negative and conflicting message to children who cannot “match fire with fire” but feel that they should.
What you can do about it: Talk with your children about positive body image and explain how the images seen on social media may not reflect realistic standards.