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Social Media and Body Image Findings

The jury has always been out on whether social media use has any effect on body image for children. It's a nuanced and complex subject to dive into but it's one of our main pillars at Just For The Children. Let’s take a step back and define what body image is. The perception you have of your physical self and the thoughts and emotions that result from this perception is known as body image. We poured through dozens of research reports and major news articles, and spoke to doctors and mental health specialists.  The most important findings from respected research organizations suggest links between overuse of social media and body image. Another surprising finding: Boys need support too, as they suffer from body image issues.

 

We believe that social media is useful for children to connect, but Big Tech has not done enough to protect our children when using it. The connection between social media use, body image issues, privacy and mental health need much more research. But major organizations from Common Sense to Child Mind Institute suggest that 8th graders who spend over 10 hours or more a week may suffer from negative emotions which body image issues. It's not light stuff here.

Research Summary

 

Social media’s cornucopia of platforms allow children as young as 13 to share almost every moment of their lives online. Now add filters, that lengthen, lighten and alter those images, and you understand how this amplification of  teen’s life online has risen. 


Along with their own image altering apps, and those of their friends, algorithms are hard at work, with super intelligent engineers controlling messages to a child. The research suggests children as young as 5 are now expressing symptoms of dissatisfaction with their appearance.


While it can be dismissed as a superficial feeling, the truth is that a child’s body image affects their mental, social and emotional health as well as their ability to create long-lasting friendships. Body image issues exacerbated by the 24/7 “always on” life our children live, need to be addressed. 


We are working on interventions for parents, and new ways to address an age old problem, which has been exponentially amplified by the omni-presence of screens and social media.

Key Takeaways

  • Starting out as young as 3 years old, Social media and technology can have an impact on your body image and relationship with food, due to increased exposure to thin and toned body types and particular diets. This is extremely problematic as this can lead to lower self-esteem, an unbalanced diet, deficiencies of vitamins and minerals and possibly eating disorders.

  • As many as 24 percent of child care professionals have reported seeing kids as young as 3 to 5 years old express unhappiness about their own appearance or their own bodies.

  • Adolescents and older teens are increasingly drawn to smartphones and other forms of technology that come armed with benefits and risks - from Instagram to TikTok, our girls are barraged with unrealistic altered images -They innocently engage with social media and other material that influence their thinking, and as research suggests, can have real consequences on a young girl’s self-esteem, relationships, mental health and even her future academic and professional life.

  • With billions of dollars spent in advertising and marketing in the United States alone, technology is typically the platform of delivery in which we intercept and interpret messages about ourselves, our self-worth, and our bodies. While we may not be conscious of it, technology has influenced the way we perceive ourselves and one another.

Sources

[1] McAlister, A. R., & Cornwell, T. B. (2009). Preschool children's persuasion knowledge: The contribution of theory of mind. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 28(2), 175-185.

[2] Moses, L. J., & Baldwin, D. A. (2005). What can the study of cognitive development reveal about children's ability to appreciate and cope with advertising? Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 24(2), 186-201.

[3] Rozendaal, E., Lapierre, M. A., Van Reijmersdal, E. A., & Buijzen, M. (2011). Reconsidering advertising literacy as a defense against advertising effects. Media Psychology, 14(4), 333-354.

[4] Buijzen, M. (2007). Reducing children's susceptibility to commercials: Mechanisms of factual and evaluative advertising interventions. Media Psychology, 9(2), 411-430.

[5] Lapierre, M.A., Fleming-Milici, F., Rozendaal, E., McAlister, A.R., & Castonguay, J. (2017)  The Effect of Advertising on Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 140(140S2). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1758V

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