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Parents’ Social Media Behavior: For Better or for Worse 

“Chelsea, look here and tip your chin down a bit. Noa little bit more. And pucker up your lips with me. Oh, that’s good! No, wait, let’s take another one, I don’t like the way I look in this one 

And with that, another “spontaneous” mother-daughter Instagram post is created, highlighting a fun afternoon out running errands. 

It seems like everywhere we turn, our daily activity is being recorded through nonstop use of social media selfies that tell a story about our activities, our interestsand our appearance. Not only the appearance of adults, but also the appearance of our kids. 

Recent statistics show an upward trend in social media use amongst kids and teens, with 70 percent of teens (aged 13 to 17) on social media several times a day. With so much emphasis on social media usage amongst young people, parents are understandably concerned about how their children’s social media use affects their emotional well-beingespecially in the areas of bodimage, self-esteem and associated depression. 

To learn more about how social media impacts teens, researchers Ilyssa Salomon and Christia Brown devised a study that investigated how high social media use affects teens, especially young adolescents (aged 11 to 13) who are at a greater risk for developing negative body image. The results were illuminating. 

Specifically, Salomon and Brown found that teens who posted more pictures of themselves on social media had a more heightened awareness of their appearance, which was directly related to feeling more negatively about their bodies. Similarly, teens who were more invested in choosing and editing photos of themselves were more dissatisfied with their overall body image. Lastly, the study indicated that adolescents with a heightened focus on the approval of others were found to be at greater risk of being negatively impacted by social media use. 

Essentially, behavior speaks louder than words. Never before has a parent’s attitude and behavior had such an impact on their child’s developing self-esteem, especially in the area of their child’s highly-charged emotional relationship with social media. 

As a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and issues related to body image, I am keenly aware of the role that parents play in influencing the creation of either a positive or challenging relationship with appearance and body image in their kids. 

This awareness has been significantly reinforced by recent research. Specifically, an abundance of studies have recently indicated that an adolescent’s primary role model is their parent. Kids want to be like their parent and, oftentimes, kids emulate their parents’ behavior. 

Similarly, research on adolescent values consistently find that kids seek the approval of their parents, whether they want their parent to know it or notTherefore, when a child repeatedly experiences their parent as being excessively concerned or focused on how they look in Instagram photos, chances are they will similarly learn to put a premium on how they look in those photos. 

Additionally, when a parent “teaches” their child to be aware of “best angles,” how to pucker up for a glam photo, or to begrudge their weight in photos through parental modeling, kids naturally begin to see themselves through the same critical, appearance-focusedsocial media lens. 

What’s a parent to do? Thankfully, a lot! 

Given the well-researched fact that parents have such a significant influence on their children and that children really do care about what their parents think, parents can do a lot to help influence the quality of their child’s social media experience through healthy modeling, starting at home. Here are some highimpact, straight-forward tips to create a body positive, social media experience: 

Never outwardly comment on how you look, how your child looks, or how others look in social media photos. 

 Emphasize inner appearance (i.e., “She looks so happy; they are having such great time!” etc.) over outer appearance. 

 Emphasize fun shots over appearance based shots. 

Laugh readily at yourself rather than taking yourself or your outer appearance too seriously in photos. 

Add self-accepting comments such as, “Oh well, not the best shot. But who cares!” when young ears are around. 

Parents can have an impact on how their child sees themselves and others through social media. Especially when parents model healthy social media behavior, starting at home. 


By // Dr. Julie T. Anné 

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