Social media use can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. Instagram's new Pressure to be Perfect initiative aims to help teens navigate the platform in a positive way and is offering parents tools to help.

By Nicole Harris, Anna Halkidis
Updated July 06, 2020
Courtesy of Instagram

You can’t ignore the popularity of Instagram. With a slew of celebrities using it every day to share tidbits of their lives, the photo-sharing app has become the epitome of cool since it launched in 2010. And for better or worse, no one knows cool better than kids.

With an Instagram account, digital natives like teens and children–who make up a substantial portion of the platform's user base–can upload images and videos, interact with friends, send private messages, and browse billions of photographs. Users love how Instagram promotes innovation and creativity, but with all that freedom to share information also comes a host of safety issues, including mean behavior, inappropriate content which are particularly concerning for parents, and a need for perfection.

Keep in mind that children under 13 aren’t allowed to use Instagram without verifiable parental consent, per the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. And Instagram is now making it mandatory to ask a user’s date of birth when signing up. This is part of the platform’s latest initiative to create a safe and supportive environment for everyone.

On December 4, Instagram launched Pressure to be Perfect, a collaboration with The Jed Foundation (JED), an organization focused on protecting emotional health and preventing suicide for teens and young adults. The campaign features two digital toolkits found online—one for parents and another for teens—that will help facilitate difficult conversations about social pressures. It also offer tools teens can use to learn to feel they can be their genuine selves on Instagram minus feeling any anxiety to be “perfect.”

"At JED, we think that social media is allowing many young people to express mental health experiences in a more open way, and that social media allows people to identify signs of distress among peers," says Victor Schwartz, M.D., medical director of The Jed Foundation. "However, social media may also be contributing to anxiety, stress, and depression, as this medium can encourage social comparison and the pressure to be perfect." For example, a recent study found teens who spend more time on their screens are more likely to report depressive symptoms and suicidal behaviors.

To put together the toolkits, Instagram also worked with Janis Whitlock, the director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury, who says the Pressure to be Perfect toolkit is meant to help parents assist young people in making their Instagram life balanced and positive. “The parent toolkit introduces three key takeaways from recent research about healthy Instagram use: the value of sharing thoughtfully, the importance of responding to others with kindness, and the power of learning to maintain a healthy perspective on oneself and life, no matter what idealized images of others one is exposed to on or offline,” she says.

The toolkit features interactive quizzes teens and parents can take on their own and then compare answers. These quizzes aim to make the conversations about social media use and self-image easier. “I encourage parents to start an open and authentic conversations with the youth in their lives with the goal of learning about their young person’s social media experience,” adds Whitlock. “Positive communication about these issues can lead to deeper conversation about whether or not youth or adults in their lives are worried about anything that they have seen or experienced related to social media use."

Here's a breakdown of some important Instagram features parents should know in order to help their kids be safe while using social media:

Protect Their Privacy

In terms of account privacy, Instagram users have two account options found under “Account Privacy” in settings: public and private. Any Instagram user can view and follow a public account; this is beneficial for those looking to gain a social media following, but it presents a host of safety concerns.

Private accounts, on the other hand, lets your child approve their followers (only approved users can view their images and stories) and remove followers at any time. You can easily switch from a public to a private account, and vice versa.

Your kid can also turn off “Show Activity Status” so no one sees if they are currently online or the last time they were.

Manage Unwanted Interactions

Is your child receiving unwanted messages and comments? Instagram's blocking interactions feature lets you “block” accounts from interacting with your posts, stories, and live broadcasts. The blocked person will never be notified, and they can be unblocked at any time.

If your kid doesn’t want to block someone but isn’t interested in interacting with that specific person, they can simply mute the account. By taping the quotations symbol in the corner of one of that person’s posts, they can choose whether to mute feed or story posts, or both. Again, that person will never know.

Further, Instagram has more features to prevent bullying and other negative interactions. Built-in filters can automatically remove offensive words and phrases from feed, explore, profile, and live videos—and users can also create their own customized filters. They can even block emojis they don’t want to see in the comments section by going to “Filters” in the Comment Controls section. They can also choose who is allowed to comment on posts, whether it’s no one at all, everyone, their own followers, or people they follow and those people’s followers.

Users, even those who are private, can be even more selective with who interacts with them. They can create an exclusive list of followers using the feature “Close Friends.” People on this list will be the only ones allowed to view their story.

Report Bullying

Every so often, Instagram users come across an unkind or unwelcome photograph or comments. Let your teen know if they spot an account, photo, video, comment, message, or story that is intended to bully or harass someone, they can report it.

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