In one week I will be taking a group of teens to Poland on a service trip. A few nights ago I gathered with their parents to go over the details of the trips and to answer questions. Throughout the trip we will be having a morning lecture focused on issues youth and young adults face. I asked the parents what issues they were concerned about. Social media use was an overwhelming concern.
Social media is something we write and talk about extensively. As therapists and researchers we have serious concerns about the impact it has on our youth. I have a notification system set up so that every time an article on research of the effects of social media is published I got notified. Recently Forbes published a great article on the neuroscience of social media and teen girls.
Instagram is popular to say the least. As of 2018 it had over 1 billion users worldwide. Half of them are daily users. Of the daily users, 60% are females under the age of 34. This is the core group that Instagram focuses on.
One of the co-founders of Instagram was a former student of BJ Fogg. BJ Fogg is the creator of persuasive technology design. His work builds on the research B.F. Skinner. Skinner studied how reward shapes behavior. He famously created a box where he put animals and shaped their behavior by rewarding them.
B.F. Skinner and BJ Fogg found that human behavior could be shaped by rewards as well. Instagram is designed so that users continue to check back frequently. The more users on Instagram and the longer they use it, the more money Instagram can make from advertisements.
Scrolling, tagging, notifications and likes all tap into the fear of missing out. If you aren’t on Instagram constantly then you might miss something and be left out.
Teen Instagram users are exposed to idealized images of other women and life in general every time they use Instagram. They compare how they feel internally to what others project externally on Instagram. They usually come up on the short end of the comparison. Research has clearly linked Instagram (and overall social media) to depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
Brain scans how shown that when girls see a highly rated image, their brain associates it with being better. What they don’t realize is that many of these likes are either fake or purchased. These likes trigger the reward center of the brain so that they feel good. However they are unaware that they are being manipulated for financial purposes.
The design of Instagram is tailored to teen and young adult females. For instance, filters, makeup, lighting, and posing are designed for female use. What teen girls fail to realize is that the pictures they are seeing are not necessarily based in reality.
The popularity of Instagram has also led to the creation of Influencers. These are people with large followings who are paid to post. Kylie Jenner reportedly gets paid $1 million per advertised post.
Average American girls spend 6-10 hours a day on social media. This means they spend a large percentage of the day in a virtual world that is not necessarily a reflection of reality. This has led to dramatic increases in depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
What to Do
If you have concerns about a loved one’s use of social media please contact us. Extended social media use can result in depression, loneliness, and anxiety. Suicide rates have increased dramatically in the past several years for teen girls. Read our other articles on social media here and here. This is a real issue with real consequences. Please do not hesitate to contact us.