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Instagram and mental health

The platform has removed "likes" to make IG safer for young ‘grammers.

Article Author: Katie McPherson

Article Date:

Tween on Instagram

If a picture is posted on Instagram and no one is around to "like" it, did it really post? Instagram is testing that theory in the U.S. as likes start disappearing from certain users’ accounts. Those users will no longer see how many times a photo or video has been liked, just the post itself and any comments. Only on the user’s own photos will like counts still appear.

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, says this is meant to make Instagram a safer space, specifically for kids and teens.

"It's about young people," Mosseri said during an industry symposium announcing the change. "The idea is to try to 'depressurize' Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love and things that inspire them."

De'Von Patterson, PhD, a psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health, said that there is some research about how teens’ brains react to likes and comments, but ultimately, Instagram’s like changes may not be the answer to making the IG a safe space.

“I have adolescents as young as 10 or 11 who are dealing with cyberbullying. Little to none of it is related to likes,” he said. “Likes are certainly a source of validation, and people get positive feelings when they have more of them, but the distress usually comes from being excluded from a group or seeing a friend with another friend. There’s an indirect kind of cyberbullying where someone says they don’t like this person and others can comment, so you see everyone piling on, and it’s difficult to deal with because kiddos are not going to make a distinction between how people’s behavior changes between online and real life, so they feel it just as much as they feel things that happen in school.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says cyberbullying — any bullying behavior that takes place online — includes sending mean messages to someone, sharing embarrassing pictures of them, creating or spreading untrue stories about them, and more. Dr. Patterson assures parents they can help their child avoid it with a little bit of supervision: in person and online. 

How can parents help?

First, it’s important to watch for signs of cyberbullying.

“Red flags would include any kind of behavioral changes or changes in demeanor, energy level, eating habits or sleeping habits," said Dr. Patterson. "If a parent notices any changes, it’s worth bringing them to a clinician. All the time, I have parents who see some changes in their child or have some concerns, and they bring them in even though they don’t have any ‘major’ red flags. I’m always happy to see that because there have been times that a child was severely depressed but wasn’t showing any other signs a parent would look for.”

Since the signs aren’t always obvious, or your child may not disclose exactly what’s causing these changes, it’s key for parents to supervise their child’s social media use.

“The biggest thing is putting some limits in place. One thing I see is parents will give kids free rein on the weekends, so they’ll wake up and be on electronics and social media 12 or 14 hours,” said Dr. Patterson. “If you’re limiting it and then giving them free rein, I’m not sure how much you’re really accomplishing, so that screen time limit should take some form on the weekends as well. On the weekend, there are always developments on social media and kids may feel compelled to keep up with them. There needs to be a point where they’re stepping away from it.”

Lastly, Dr. Patterson recommends that parents are mindful of what their kids are watching and liking online. Make sure it doesn’t warp their perception of real versus highlight reel.

“In general, social media affects kids’ perception of what is normal, both in terms of what someone’s life looks like, as well as body image. People are posting the best things happening, the best photos.That’s problematic for kids because this is that time they’re developing an understanding of how things work. If they’re heavily using social media, that’s affecting their perception of what life and relationships should look like. Parents should be aware of what their kids are watching and talk with them about that, helping them process it.”

If your child is experiencing negative emotions from their social media use or is being cyberbullied, call 904.376.3800 to connect with a pediatric behavioral health provider who can help. Visit wolfsonchildrens.com to learn more.

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