These platforms have become a primary tool of information, communication and entertainment, and play a progressively significant role in children and young people’s lives, including the way they look and feel.
In the past I have campaigned for advertising to be captioned if it has been altered or airbrushed because of its misleading nature and potential to contribute to body image issues.
But now social media has stepped into the hot seat when it comes to portraying unrealistic and unattainable ideals of the “perfect body”, and it is extremely concerning.
Never before has it been so easy to enhance and edit our images to portray a picture-perfect version of ourselves and the life we live. And never before has it been so easy to look into people’s lives and comment on the way they look like we do now.
I am really worried about the impact social media is having on the lives of our children and young people in the offline/real world.
Social media has been linked to increased body dissatisfaction, a negative approach to eating, mental health and low self-esteem.
The feedback systems embedded in social media platforms that enable us to like, dislike or comment from behind our screens without fear of recrimination not only open up the door for bullying, but also exacerbate body image and self-esteem issues.
The distance afforded by social media and the lack of immediate consequences enable young people to cultivate a false persona and portray a “perfect life”.
A survey by the Pew Research Centre states that 40 per cent of teen social media users feel pressure to post content that makes them “look good” to others, and 30 per cent say they only post things that will get lots of comments or likes.
What we are seeing are children and young people who are carefully manipulating what they put on social media in order to fulfil societal ideals, sometimes to the point where they are barely recognisable, and as a result they are seeing the world through a filter.
It is not healthy.
There are other risks associated with social media that can follow them into their offline lives as well, including the oversharing of information, privacy, safety, bullying and a digital footprint that can have serious repercussions later on.
The impact social media has on children and young people is concerning to me, not only because they are developmentally vulnerable, but also because they are among the heaviest users of social media.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority suggests that young people are aware of the risks involved with social media, but that this knowledge is not often put into practice.
They are less concerned with maintaining their privacy, the permanency of their digital footprint, and use social media in an unconcerned manner.
As children get older, parental control over the internet relaxes, eventually reaching a point where they access the internet and social media without supervision. This is where things can get ugly. Social media may be the primary way young people communicate, but its negative impacts should not be accepted as part of the modern-day life.
Parents and guardians need to be social media-smart too. They should play a role in young people’s use of social media, whether by becoming educated, being aware of social media privacy settings, or having open discussions about social media etiquette.
We live in an increasingly connected world. The opportunities are boundless and we must explore them, but we must also be aware of the dangers of social media in the way we view ourselves.
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