Over the course of the past decade, social media has revolutionized the Internet and infiltrated our culture. With over 1 billion users on Facebook, 800 million on YouTube, 500 million on Twitter, and 10 million on Pinterest, our lives have never been more intertwined with technology. Concurrently, hospitalizations for eating disorders in adolescents and young adults continue to increase in the U.S. Recently, there has been some controversy over the correlation between eating disorders and the influence of social media. However, this issue is not black and white. Social media has both positive and negative implications for adolescents and young adults. It is our awareness and communication regarding this subject that needs a makeover.
Let’s face it, social media isn’t going to go away anytime soon. This may be a hard fact to swallow, especially if you are a parent of a teen or young adult with poor body image, low self-esteem, or an eating disorder. On one hand, there is a dark side to social media. There is a new trend known as “Thinspiration”, where sites are encouraging users to lose weight, typically in an unhealthy manner. For example, there are “Pro-Mia” (pro-bulimia) and “Pro-Ana” (pro-anorexia) websites where one can view pictures of others and receive advice on how to maintain an eating disorder. On the other hand, social media can be used as a support system. There is an abundance of websites that provides a supportive community for eating disorder recovery. The use of social media also allows your teen or young adult to network, make friends, and inadvertently boost their self-esteem by connecting in a positive way with others. As a concerned parent, you may be wondering, “What do I do? How can I keep my child safe?”
First and foremost, one needs to realize that social media and eating disorders do not have a cause-and-effect relationship. According to the Huffington Post article, Eating Disorders: How Social Media Helps Spread Anorexia and Bulimia in Young People, “Genetics, brain chemistry, brain structure and the role of hormones are all in the mix.” However, social media has been identified as a reinforcer and a potential risk factor for developing an eating disorder. As a parent, there are several critical measures one can take to reduce this factor:
1) Have the other “talk”…about social media. Studies show that those who have parents that are involved with their use of social media have higher self-empowerment and self-esteem.
2) Monitor and filter your child’s Internet usage. Block “Pro-Ana” and “Pro-Mia” websites. Set limits on how much time can be spent online. Have a “family computer” that is out in a high-traffic area in the house.
3) Talk to other parents. Use your support systems. Discuss ideas and limits other parents make on their children for ideas.
Social media can enhance your child’s life, if approached properly. As a parent, one can take the steps above to guide their children to navigate these sites in a safe manner in the same way that they can help guide their children safely through life’s other challenges.
— Written by Svetlana Orlova RN