6 Ways for Teens to Protect Their Mental Health on Picture-Perfect Instagram

When you’re still trying to figure out who you are and what you value, looking at pictures of unreasonably pretty people living seemingly carefree lives is bound to make you feel insecure and inadequate. That was true back in my own teenage years, when my models for style and beauty were literally models (or actors) in magazines. And I’m not surprised to learn that it’s just as true for today’s teens looking at the carefully curated images of “influencers” on Instagram.

And even though I can’t say I was completely surprised by recent research into how Instagram is affecting teens’ mental health, I found some of the details pretty shocking. One in three teen girls, and one in seven teen boys, say Instagram makes them feel worse about themselves. Almost 40% of Instagram users blame it for their feelings of being “unattractive.” Worst of all, up to 13% of the teens in the study who’ve had suicidal thoughts say they can trace them back to Instagram use.  

 We all need to connect with friends, especially at times when we can’t be with them in person. Being able to share photos of everything from new shoes to what we had for lunch can be a great way to do that. So I’m not about to say that teens shouldn’t use Instagram. But I do think it’s crucial for them to be mindful about it, and make sure they use it in ways that support their mental health and stay attuned to when their self-esteem starts tanking. 

 Here are some guidelines the young (and yes, even the not-so-young) adults in your life might find useful: 


  • Interact! Scrolling social media without actively posting or commenting is linked to depressive symptoms in adolescents – so make sure you engage with your friends instead of just staring at what they’re doing. After all, it’s called social media for a reason! 


  • Log off when it gets dark. Young people who use social media at night are more likely to have poor sleep, low self-esteem, and high levels of depression and anxiety. 


  • Remember that nobody’s life is picture-perfect all the time. What you get on Instagram is usually a highlight reel designed to create an image, polish a brand, and get your attention. All the scruffy, scary, embarrassing, disappointing bits get edited out, and what’s left is often tweaked and filtered to make it look better.   


  • Do something offline to turn down the volume on negative thoughts. Playing with a pet, getting out in nature, hanging out with your friends, or doing a service project that helps others are all proven ways to head off defeatist feelings. 


  • Take an Insta break. Remove the app from your phone for a day, week, or month so you can focus on other things. If you take some really great photos during that time, you can always post them as #latergrams when you come back! And if you’re struggling emotionally and social media is making you feel worse, you can also decide not to come back at all.   


  • Listen to some of our guided meditations! Guided imagery has been shown in clinical trials to help people manage their moods and reduce the stress in their lives. And by directing attention on their own internal feelings, values, images and sensations, these audios help listeners stop comparing themselves negatively to others. We’ve made a list of audios especially for teens that will tackle everything from anxiety and depression to procrastination and sleep problems. It’s another great way to use your phone – no filters or hashtags required. ????