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Ashley Greer PA-C
By Ashley Greer PA-C on July 02, 2024

Navigating Social Media as a Parent and Clinician

As the parent of a tween girl, I'm acutely aware of the risks associated with her eventual exposure to social media. As a family, we have been holding out on a smartphone for as long as possible (we signed the Wait Until 8th Pledge). We also plan to follow the current recommendations to wait until age 16 for social media exposure. 

Recent headlines have shed light on the detrimental effects of platforms like Instagram and TikTok, particularly concerning body image and eating disorders. I was eager to sit down with Dr. Christine Peat, Director of the National Center for Excellence in Eating Disorders, to delve into this pressing issue as both a clinician and a parent.

Dr. Peat outlined the alarming reality of social media's impact on young minds. From perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards to glorifying dangerous eating disorder behaviors, platforms like Instagram and TikTok can significantly influence our children's perceptions of themselves and others. 

Some content can seem benign, such as “what I eat in a day,” but can profoundly impact developing minds’ perception of food and body image. Other influencers post “pro-ana” or “pro-mia” content, explicitly promoting the dangerous behaviors of anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Studies have shown a concerning link between excessive social media use and body dissatisfaction among adolescents and young adults. Although this issue is primarily discussed with female adolescents, it spans all genders and ethnicities.

As parents, it's crucial for us to monitor our children's online activity and engage in open conversations about media literacy and body positivity. Thankfully, there are initiatives underway to address these issues. Meta's recent announcement to restrict content related to self-harm and eating disorders is a step in the right direction. Additionally, legislative efforts like the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) aim to hold tech companies accountable for safeguarding young users from harmful content. If you’re a parent and want to get more involved, you can sign the KOSA petition here and write to your lawmakers to encourage them to regulate tech companies. 

Organizations like The Body Project and Be Real are also actively combating these issues, offering interventions and promoting body positivity. The Body Project has small groups within high schools and colleges, while Be Real shares a curriculum that can be used in the classroom setting and beyond.

As healthcare professionals, it’s our responsibility to broach this topic with our patients and their families. By discussing social media usage and providing guidance on navigating online spaces safely, we can help mitigate the negative effects of social media on body image and self-esteem. 

When talking to our patients and their parents, it’s vital to approach the topic with curiosity instead of judgment. We can ask about social media use, what kind of content they enjoy, and who they might follow. It’s unrealistic to expect teens (and all people!) to stop using social media entirely. Instead, we should encourage our patients and parents to be informed and knowledgeable about the available content on the internet. 

While the road ahead may seem daunting, there is hope for future generations. By advocating for legislative change and fostering a culture of acceptance and inclusivity, we can create a safer online environment for our children. Through education, advocacy, and open dialogue, we can protect our adolescents from the harmful influences of social media and empower them to navigate online spaces with confidence and resilience.

Published by Ashley Greer PA-C July 2, 2024
Ashley Greer PA-C