Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram made body images worse for one in three teenage girls, and the paper of record even cited Facebook’s own data. Facebook has since fired back this week stating that it isn’t accurate that the research demonstrated that Instagram is in fact “toxic” for teen girls – and instead suggested that Instagram made many teenage girls and young women feel better rather than worse.
The social network also said in a post on Sunday that “Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 areas. But here also, the majority of teenage girls who experienced body image issues still reported Instagram either made it better or had no impact.”
Self-image is still just one factor in what may be making some girls feel bad, as it coincides with an increase in cyberbullying. This is not a new phenomenon, but Dr. Monica Barreto, PhD and licensed clinical child psychologist at the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, told this reporter that the problem has been increasing.
While the pandemic is certainly one part of it, Barreto said that cyberbullying has been on the rise amongst adolescents due, in part, to increased access to electronic devices, the Internet, and at times lack of supervision of online activity.
“Within the field of psychology, the research has varied on its stance on the correlation and relationship between cyberbullying and traditional bullying, however there are crucial differences that are important to identify,” she explained. “It can be argued that cyberbullying is a more threatening form of aggression than traditional bullying, as cyberbullies can remain anonymous, causing bullying to occur around the clock.”
What is also an issue is that the act of a cyberbully can be viewed repeatedly and shared with others without limit, making it difficult for support networks to shield victims from cyberbullying.
“Overall, cyberbullying occurs on a broader, omnipresent scale compared to traditional bullying, without physical violence, admittedly, but with the capacity to do significant harm to the reputation, emotional well-being, and social relationships of a child or adolescent,” added Barreto. “Although, cyberbullying and traditional bullying share the common feature of being behaviors that communicate disrespect and domination, the expression of dominance in cyberbullying is emotional and psychological, without limits.”
Social Media Amplifies Cyberbullying
As noted, cyberbullying existed before the emergence of social media – and may have included trolling on forums, message boards and even chat rooms; as well as the sharing of inappropriate photos by teens; or just the sharing of secrets and the spreading of rumors online.
However, just as more people, especially younger Americans, connect via social media it has led to an uptick in cyberbullying.
“Statistics show most cases are taking place on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter,” said Barreto. “Although these sites allow teens to share pictures, posts and communicate with friends, they are also a hotspot for cyberbullying. On these social media platforms, cyberbullies can make hurtful and emotionally scarring comments anonymously. These comments can be made publicly on a youth’s photo or privately in a direct message. Additionally, images or comments can be made ‘viral’ by sharing with others instantly. An additional stressor related to cyberbullying is the unlimited access teens have to social media via their phones and home devices (i.e., iPad, laptops and computers, gaming systems). Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying can be ongoing, even after the youth has left school grounds, making a teen feel helpless and without haven.”
The pandemic and the resulting lockdown have also changed social interaction for many teen girls, and even as they are going back to a physical school the problems have continued.
“Since the start of the Covid pandemic, we have seen a rise in anxiety, depression, eating disorders, isolation, and loneliness, as well as a lack of peer contact and reduced opportunities for stress reduction and emotion regulation,” explained Barreto. “With the return to school, these difficulties may impact children’s academic performance as well as their abilities to cope with stress and activities as some social activities continue to remain limited. It is important during this transition for parents to have open communication with their children, talk about their struggles, and seek mental health services and support as needed.”