The Wall Street Journal report on the effect of Instagram on the mental health of girls is powerful. It reminds us that it is more important to open communication with our daughters than to worry about whether or not they use Instagram. There is certainly a crisis of mental health with our teens, and while Instagram might be making matters worse, it didn’t start the fire. Let’s work together on building those important connections with our kids of all ages – listen, observe, reflect their emotions, check for understanding when they share, refrain from being the expert, remember the power of empathy. 

Our girls (and all our youth for that matter), need to learn self-compassion and confidence. This is not something we can just give them. These are important assets we need to nurture in our kids. The challenge is that it starts with modeling! By maintaining open lines of communication we help youth to see their role in the world and teach them the strength of body and mind.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Before connecting with your child, take a moment to become aware of your own fears and biases. Do your best to drop your agenda to allow for open communication – which is ideally a lot more listening than talking. Be ready to learn about your child’s world and respectfully share your perspective.
  • Discuss social media use and ask open ended questions to encourage your child to think about and share what it is they get from social media use. What do they value about it? Why is it important to them? How is it impacting them in general? Can they identify negative impact?
  • Discuss starting (or continuing) a practice of gratitude in your family to nurture feelings of belonging, connectedness, and self satisfaction.
  • Discuss filters – do you use filters? Put on makeup? How do you talk about yourself? If your daughter uses filters, why? What does it do for her? How are other people using filters and how does that change what we see?
  • Discuss apps – this is a process where you can rank the happiness an app brings you, do you feel obligated to check in (ie streaks)
  • Discuss being a savvy consumer – consider with your child which apps you may want to remove
  • Discuss online safety

You’re the parent and you can limit time on screen, social media use, and specific apps. And, your child is built to seek risk and pleasure and may sneak around you. Keep in mind when you set limits, it’s ideal to invite your child into the conversation – they will understand the motivation and have their own ideas on how to keep to the plan.

The issue of the constant negative reinforcement is more about exposure in general than simply time on instagram itself. These images are present in many areas of our lives and confidence issues can be made worse by metric phobia and a feeling of needing to be connected. Talk to your daughter about things she enjoys on and off the screen and help her start a practice of gratitude to offset self doubt and create self satisfaction. Your open-ended, non-judgemental, interest in your child’s way of seeing the world and your willingness to engage in candid dialogue about tough issues are powerful protective factors in keeping kids safe.

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