According to recent new stories and some preliminary research there has been an increase in kids and teens having to deal with feels of insecurity, worthlessness, not being good enough, ugliness, and unfortunately leading to extremes like eating disorders. Is there a connection between social media and eating disorders?
Social Media and Eating Disorders
Yes, and no. To put it in perspective, social media causes eating disorders in the same way low temperatures cause colds. Being cold doesn’t make you sick, but it does lower your resistance to the viruses trying to get inside of you. Social media is the method by which ideas are transmitted.
With that said, social media has made it possible to spread eating disorder gospel to a larger audience, and that appears to be having some genuinely negative effects.
According to the Huffington Post, as far back as 2012, hospital admissions were spiking for eating disorders like anorexia. The victims were largely young girls, aged 15 and under, which was a disturbing trend since eating disorders are the mental disorders that have the highest mortality rate among sufferers. When researchers tried to find a cause to attribute the increase in eating disorder cases, social media was put under the microscope. What the research found was that social media users experience an increased awareness of their bodies and weight, which can lead to being extremely self-conscious regarding how that body is treated and presented.
While that might sound like an open and shut case, the facts behind eating disorders are a lot more complicated.
Social media exposes people to information and ideas. However, different people will react to that exposure very differently. Just as some women and men will be able to ignore the unrealistic standards of beauty and looks portrayed in traditional media, there are adults who will be able to scroll right past eating disorder triggers on social media. Every person who suffers from an eating disorder has a unique history, psychology, and brain chemistry that determines what will affect them.
It becomes harder to resist when you’re drawn into an echo chamber, however. Websites and online communities dedicated to a pro-anorexia or pro-bullimia lifestyle have existed since the earliest days of the Internet, according to USA Today, and their messages haven’t gone away. In fact, these groups have bled into social media websites like Facebook and Instagram, trying to recruit new believers into the cult of thin that so often leads to troubles with food.
The news isn’t all bad, though.
What Social Media is Doing to Fight Eating Disorders
Social media networks have not been lying down when it comes to the fight against eating disorders. For example, photo-sharing site Pinterest began banning or reviewing terms like “thinspiration” which often lead viewers to pro-anorexia accounts or groups, and other social media platforms have made it a point to review communities which are considered harmful. Additionally, social media communities trying to help those fighting against eating disorders provide a necessary support that can be a life saver for those who need a shoulder to lean on during their struggles.
Despite the attempts to fight against the promotion of eating disorders online, though, social media’s primary role in the increase in eating disorders appears to be reinforcement. It doesn’t create the ideas, but it allows those who believe them to send them out into the wider world, and to draw like-minded people together into communities bent on slow, mutual destruction.
As parents, it is always our job to protect our children, especially from the negative effects of social media. If you notice a change in your child’s behavior or body image you need to take action. First, it could be as simple as a conversation discussing with them how social media views on body image, weight and athleticism aren’t always accurate and that it often sets us all up for unrealistic images of what size we should be or how we should look.
If you continue to be concerned about your teen, the first thing we recommend is that you contact your family physician or your child’s pediatrician and get assistance. In addition, you can seek advice and read about important signs and symptoms from many different organizations that specialize in eating disorders. Parents must remain engaged and aware. Look for clues and signs such as absorption with their smartphones and/or depression and mood changes. Take notice if you see a change in eating habits, obsessive weighing-in, or if you see a significant change in their exercise routine.
You may find that it can be helpful for you child to take a break from certain social apps or websites, think about iPhone monitoring like iMessage activity.Talk to them about enjoying social media benefits in moderation, and how social media culture can influence them without them even realizing it. Using a trustworthy parental control makes balancing your teens time on their mobile devices easier. Removing your teen from an unhealthy environment by blocking apps or websites (don’t rely on a safe browser!) that contribute to unhealthy feelings or behavior are a must. Netsanity, for example, offers a suite of services that can block websites, dangerous categories and even certain apps like Kik, Snapchat, and MeetMe.
Last, and most importantly, having a parent that acts as a positive role model, will show your teen how to lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle without filters. In the end, regular communication with your children and responsible monitoring of their social media use are the best ways to ensure that they are staying healthy and happy!.
Also published on Medium.