Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, has acknowledged just how harmful the photo-sharing app can be to teen girls’ self-esteem, according to an internal report obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
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After studying the app’s impact on teenager users’ mental health over the last three years, researchers for the company found 32% of teenage girls who “felt bad about their bodies” said the problem was worsened by Instagram. In one study of teens in the U.S. and U.K., Facebook found that more than 40% of Instagram users who reported feeling “unattractive” said the feeling began on the social media app.
“Teens told us that they don’t like the amount of time they spend on the app but feel like they have to be present,” one Instagram research manager explained. “They often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves.”
Destinee Ramos, 17, said that, during lockdowns from the pandemic, Instagram was the only way to “show your friends what you were doing,” adding that she is “leaning towards calling it an obsession.”
After reading the WSJ report, Derek Thompson, a writer for The Atlantic, described social media as “attention alcohol.”
“It has some beneficial qualities, but it’s not naturally wholesome,” he wrote. “Many [people] use it often and love it and are basically okay. But a lot of people abuse it and develop unhealthy compulsions with it. Also, it’s functionally a depressant.”
Like alcohol abuse, teenagers’ compulsive use of Instagram is causing major problems.
One slide summarizing the research stated Instagram makes “body image issues worse for one in three teenage girls.” The internal data also revealed “teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” findings the study’s authors described as “unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
In a blog post published in response to the research, Instagram stated the WSJ story “focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light.” Nevertheless, the company stands by the research, which, it argues, “demonstrates our commitment to understanding complex and difficult issues young people may struggle with.”
“The research on the effects of social media on people’s well-being is mixed, and our own research mirrors external research,” the blog post reads. “Social media isn’t inherently good or bad for people. Many find it helpful one day, and problematic the next. What seems to matter most is how people use social media, and their state of mind when they use it.”
As Christians, we know nothing good can come from playing the comparison game.
The Apostle Paul warned against this in his letter to the Galatians, when he wrote, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Our confidence — and self-esteem — shouldn’t rest on our own ability, because it will eventually let us down. The Bible says “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). Our confidence should be a product of God’s sufficiency in our lives. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that he asked God to take away the “thorn in my flesh” — the thing that challenged his confidence — “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
We should rest — regardless of what others’ lives might look like, real or edited — in the fact that God is the only one who can provide us with true satisfaction and contentment. The psalmist wrote that God “formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13).
In the Old Testament, God told Samuel not to “consider appearance” because God “does not look at the things people look at.” While “people look at the outward appearance … the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
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