Under the rapid development of the Internet era, social media has become an integral part of most of the younger generations, which has a significant impact on their social behavior and mental health. This phenomenon has prompted a lot of discussion and further research, especially in the field of the relationship between social media and young users. Instagram as a connection between users and a platform that presents social diversity, it also brings detrimental effects on adolescents’ identity formation and mental health at the same time. Instagram has raised controversies related to ethical issues, platform Challenges, and digital rights. The concerns about appearance anxiety, body satisfaction, and social comparison can bring unfavorable effects on both the physical and mental development of adolescents. Hence, This article aims to examine how Instagram, as one of the most commonly used social media, has a significant impact on the lifestyle and mental health of Gen Z and Millennials.
Instagram use and Mental health
With the updates of social media platforms, they have become more interactive and “addictive” towards teenagers. This can also consequently lead to potential mental damage that is related to depression, poor self-esteem, and body image issues.
- Appearance and body anxiety among the younger generation
According to research, it demonstrates that teenagers, especially female adolescents, are more dissatisfied with their bodies after exposure to social media. When teenagers compare themselves with carefully planned and filtered photos of peers and celebrities, they often generate feelings of inferiority, which may lead to a decrease in self-esteem and negative body figures.
They tend to imitate popular lifestyles online and compare themselves with popular influencers or celebrities in terms of appearance and physique, which may lead to self-objectification and anxiety (Fardouly et al., 2017). Anxiety and lack of confidence in appearance and figures can lead teenagers to adopt unhealthy weight loss and fasting methods, which can affect their physical health. Studies have evaluated the relationship between overall Instagram use and self-objectification among younger females, the results indicate that the use of ins has a negative impact on the physical satisfaction of young females (Zhao et al., 2023).
2. Instagram’s unhealthy online environment has led to the occurrence of depression in teenagers
Instagram has a significant impact on teenagers’ self-esteem and self-identity formation and is also a major cause of loneliness and depression among young users (Adeyanju et al., 2021). On Instagram, teenage girls crave positive feedback from peers and internet friends about their selfies. Research investigating the relationship between Instagram and mental well-being revealed that the frequency of Instagram use was closely associated with depression or depressive symptoms, trait anxiety, appearance anxiety, and body image disorders, in a study of 129 women from the Federation University in Australia (Sherlock & Wagstaff, 2019).
3. Ethics and Governance issue related to instagram
The lack of legislative regulation on social media has led to continuous legal and ethical issues, causing controversy and conflicts in society. Instagram is the most typical example that has raised concerns about its platform regulation and policy. As a consequence, many ethical and legal issues have arisen over the past few decades. This has a significant impact on the minds of adolescents and their behaviors during the period that they are still exploring their abilities for independent judgment.
4. Number of likes on social media
However, the relationship between the number of likes received on social media platforms and mental health has been revealed. The study has found that self-esteem has an adverse effect on the significance of peer feedback and depressing mood, based on a survey of 296 female students in Singapore between the ages of 12 and 18 on their Instagram posting habits (Li et al., 2018). Thus, not receiving likes or posts with a low number of likes may have adverse effects on the mental health of teenagers. On account of the number of likes implies people’s recognition and appreciation of appearance and post content in a manner.
The impact of instagram on youth social behavior
As a kind of sociological self-esteem known as social comparison, we establish our sense of our selves by assessing how we measure up versus others. People tend to engage in downward social comparisons with those who are poorer or have lower social status, thereby increasing their self-esteem. On the contrary, an upward social comparison will lower self-esteem, and social media is more likely to lead people to lower self-esteem (Warrender & Milne, 2020). Therefore, social media amplifies the negative impact of social comparison on teenagers.
- Toxic social comparison
Social media has become an indispensable part of adolescents’ daily lives. People who like and follow the fantasies and false lives created by internet celebrities on the media may feel frustrated with real life, making it even more difficult for them to struggle against it, leading to the neglect of real things. Instagram is the most commonly used social software in Gen Z, teenagers constantly compare their own behavior with well-prepared images of their peers that post on Instagram. As such, teenagers who do not possess a mature mind tend to determine someone’s physique such as physical strength and fitness, and focus on people’s clothing and cars to determine wealth. Meanwhile, comparing oneself with these influencers who seem to have good physiques and wealth can bring about a huge psychological gap and trigger a competitive mentality among teenagers. Recently studies found that the average teenager spends around 6 to 9 hours on social media per day, which increases the possibility for teenagers to compare themselves socially with others. The toxic comparison results usually display that adolescents usually believe that many people are living perfect lives that are filled with love and wealth. and feel ‘they’re better looking than me’ just because of the filters and angles of the pictures. Therefore, this pathological social comparison approach has had a negative impact on the growth of adolescents.
What are the positive side of Instagram for teenagers？
Instagram causes hidden dangers to the mental health of teenagers and has a negative impact on their behavior. On the contrary, it also encourages positive inspiration for teenagers at the same time. Social networks create connections for people’s relationships, allowing them to gather unrelated individuals in real life. Moreover, Instagram acts as a ‘showcase’ that displays the diversity of people’s lives, in order to show participants’ interests, passions, and uniqueness. According to research, the motivation of many teenagers to use Instagram is as a way of self-expression (Mendini et al., 2022). By posting images that are often accompanied by titles or text that describe the moment in aesthetic, capturing a special and memorable moment they feel gratitude and hope to last forever. Therefore, the positive content on Instagram that is associated with self-satisfaction and appreciation can effectively reduce people’s loneliness and generate gratitude for life.
This article concentrates on how Instagram affects adolescents’ behaviour and mental health and further evaluates that the use of Instagram seems like a double-edged sword. It provides multiple possibilities for teenagers’ self-exploration, creativity, and connection between individuals, but also provides self-display, continuous comparison, and stress at the same time. Hence, the effective supervision of the platform and the establishment of platform protection policies that are conducive to the physical and mental health of teenagers should be implement as soon as possible.
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Fardouly, J., Willburger, B. K., & Vartanian, L. R. (2017). Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing mediational pathways. New Media & Society, 20(4), 1380–1395. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817694499
Li, P., Chang, L., Chua, T. H. H., & Loh, R. S. M. (2018). “Likes” as KPI: An examination of teenage girls’ perspective on peer feedback on Instagram and its influence on coping response. Telematics and Informatics, 35(7), 1994–2005. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tele.2018.07.003
Mendini, M., Peter, P. C., & Maione, S. (2022). The potential positive effects of time spent on Instagram on consumers’ gratitude, altruism, and willingness to donate. Journal of Business Research, 143, 16–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2022.01.046
Sherlock, M., & Wagstaff, D. L. (2019). Exploring the relationship between frequency of Instagram use, exposure to idealized images, and psychological well-being in women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 8(4), 482–490. https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000182
Warrender, D., & Milne, R. (2020, February 24). How use of social media and social comparison affect mental health. Nursing Times. https://www.nursingtimes.net/news/mental-health/how-use-of-social-media-and-social-comparison-affect-mental-health-24-02-2020/
Zhao, Y., Cingel, D. P., Xie, L., & Yu, M. (2023). Exploring the relations of subjective and objective Instagram use on young adults’ mental health. Telematics and Informatics, 77, 101921. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tele.2022.101921