>> Apr 5, 2016
Social media has taken over our lives to an unbelievable extent. Whoever you may be, if you are not on platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you might as well be extinct. While grandpas and grandmas also are struggling to understand the new social paradigms, it is virtually the world’s entire population below the age of 35 that is living their lives on social media. Of all the users, it is particularly those under the age of 25, and the teenagers who have propelled social media to its exalted status – their lives and passions are reflected in the posts they make.
The photo-sharing social media app, Instagram, has outstripped all others with a monthly user base in excess of 400 million. Undoubtedly, Instagram and other social networks have made the world a far smaller place allowing individuals to reach out and connect with others easily. However, there are a number of insidious hazards of Instagram, especially for teenage girls who are extremely susceptible. The dangers include harmful body images, debasing real social relationships, or an unhealthy and unrealistic validation source.
Negative Body Image
Teenage girls and girls under 25 years of age who form the bulk of Instagram’s user base are obsessed with looking good in a way that is acceptable to their peers. In a world dominated by images of celebrities who have achieved fame due to their extremely skinny figures, the very concept of looking good revolves around a zero-figure. Young women rarely are in a position to achieve that. Some do manage to realize very soon that such body shapes are completely unsustainable and in fact, quite hazardous from the medical point of view.
Spurred on by completely unreal ambitions and peer pressure, girls tend to develop eating disorders that sooner or later lead to complications. Those who are unable to slim down sufficiently tend to have a very poor image of them and are extremely vulnerable to depression, a feeling of failure and other mental ailments. Peer pressure can be extremely cruel and the inability of many girls to conform to the unrealistic ideal figure can leave them feeling completely isolated.
Synthetic Social Relationships
The real reason behind the success of social media is that they allow participants to connect with each other irrespective of the location or the time zone. Instagram made it possible to make this connected world even more vibrant with its photo-posting capabilities. With the help of the app residing on the smartphone, Instagram users are able to share glimpses of each and every activity with their followers. Unfortunately, for many young girls, the virtual world starts ruling their lives, and they get caught up in a never-ending mire of going one-up on their “friends”, adding to their follower base, and getting more and more Instagram likes.
The index of popularity shifts from the real world to a completely virtual world and those who don’t have a large enough follower base become the pariahs of this world. With eyes glued to their handheld devices, teenage girls seem oblivious to the real world and the very real relationships with physically real people. Unfortunately, these girls tend to discover the need for tangible relationships only when they get caught up in online tragedies.
When teenage girls become addicted to social media such as Instagram, the need initially is to connect to a wider audience and to acquire an ever-growing follower base. However, sooner or later this translates into posting photos only for the sheer thrill of counting the number of “likes”. For those in the hurly-burly of social media, posting photographs becomes less of a sharing of an experience and more of a competition where they need to outscore the members of their peer group in the number of “likes” acquired. It is quite natural that girls will be disappointed on a regular basis, and this ‘failure” can create havoc at a time when teenagers particularly are at their most vulnerable, especially as far as their self-confidence is concerned.
Author bio: Susan Brandon is a behavioral counselor working with a prominent not-for-profit organization. She regularly counsels teenage girls on the importance of being able to differentiate between popularity and Instagram likes.