Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

Eating Disorder Service

Information for family and friends

Social media

When your teenager is glued to their smart phone or tablet, it can be difficult to know what kind of activity they get up to online and how this can affect them. We’ve put together a list of some popular apps and descriptions for you to refer to when you won’t get much more from your teenager than a grunt!

Research shows spending lots of time online looking at pictures of celebrity idols, tweeting the latest fad diet or pinning new workout routines can be detrimental to a young person’s self-esteem (Andreassen, Pallesen, & Griffiths, 2016; Burrow & Rainone, 2016; Woods & Scott, 2016).

Although social media apps often ban content that condones or promotes eating disorders, pro-anorexia or thinspiration posts can often be found on social media apps and can be very harmful to recovery. We have included some advice on online safety for your teenager below which we hope you will find helpful.

Popular social media apps

  • Facebook

Facebook allows you to connect with friends, share photos, post statuses of what you’re up to, create events and pages, and message your friends privately. Facebook’s security settings are flexible, so you can choose whether your page is public or private.

Facebook allows others to ‘like’ or comment on your statuses or photos. Similarly to other social media apps, young people tend to try hard to get as many likes or followers/friends as possible and often their self-worth and confidence is tied into their latest post and the number of likes they have received.

  • Twitter

Twitter is another popular and long standing social media app, and is the home of the hashtag! Twitter allows you to post short, public messages called “tweets”, which can include photos, videos or links. You can “follow” celebrities and well-known figures.  

  • Instagram

Instagram is a popular photo sharing app. Users are able to take photos, edit or apply a filter and share it within instagram and other social networking sites such as facebook, twitter and Tumblr. Like facebook you can “like” each other’s photos.

  • Snapchat

Snapchat is a messaging service that allows people to send photos or short videos to each other. Seconds after opening the ‘snap’ it will disappear and the user can no longer see them. However, those receiving the snap are able to print screen the image and save it to their own phone!

  • Pinterest

Pinterest is a post sharing app tailored to suit the interests of the user. The user is able search and browse through posts (or pins) that fit their interests. You can create boards for particular themes by pinning the photos presented to you, and more suggestions are made based on what you pin.

Pinterest has the option of ‘reporting’ pins that are related to self-harm, however often these posts take a while to be removed and new posts are uploaded every day.

  • Tumblr

Tumblr is a popular blogging platform where users can post on their boards, follow other bloggers or search posts using keywords. It allows users to post content such as photos, pictures, text, music, videos and more. Unlike most other social media apps, Tumblr accounts are public and cannot be made private.

Tumblr has a content policy that bans blogs that promote or advocate self- harm, suicide or eating disorders, however millions of posts are created every day and not every post can be checked for this content, often they rely on blogs being ‘reported’.

  • YouTube

Youtube is a well-known social media platform for sharing videos. You can find millions of videos without being a member. By becoming a registered user, you can create your own channel with various videos, like or dislike, or comment on other videos. You can manage your publicity settings to public, private (only friends can watch your videos) or unlisted (only those with the link to the video can watch it).

  • MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal is a free calorie counter and diet plan app. It acts as a calorie counter and exercise monitor. The app will ask for your current and target weight and will set specific daily calorie, fat, carbohydrate, protein, salt and sugar daily targets in order to reach your goal weight. Once you have inputted your daily food intake the app will predict how much you will weigh in five weeks if you stick to the target. If you input less than the recommended calorie intake (never less than 1000kcals) the app will not give you a five week prediction or allow you to post your diary to others that day.

  • MapMyRun

It does what it says on the tin! MapMyRun is an app that will track your route and progress whilst on a run. It will provide you with feedback allowing you to review your progress, and provide new running routes to challenge yourself. Users are able to connect with friends to share the results of their runs, and also share their progress to facebook and other social media platforms.

Social media and eating disorders

How does your teenager use social media for ED purposes?

You may have come across terms in the media such as pro-ana, pro-mia, thinspo, and fitspo. These stand for pro-anorexia, pro-bulimia, thinspiration, and fitspiration respectively. All of these words have been associated with social media use amongst young people with eating disorders/difficulties.

It is well known that the numbers of websites that promote behaviours associated with anorexia and bulimia have increased in recent years, and are easily accessible by anyone who is able to use the internet. Many of these websites take the form of blogs, and advertise themselves as helping people towards recovery, or offering support to people on their journey, and that they do not promote harmful behaviour. However, more attention to the content of posts on these websites reveal tips of how to engage in eating disordered behaviour; such as losing weight quickly, how to “fake” a weigh in, and cruel images or slogans promoting self-loathing masked as encouragement and support during the “ana” or “mia” lifestyle. Thinspo and fitspo are popular tags on a number of social media platforms doing just this.

Although teenagers will be exposed this content via popular social media sites, many are not aware of the unhealthy messages and unreachable goals they portray. Unfortunately, the majority of people accessing these platforms are unaware of the heavy editing that occurs before uploading photos through various filters and make up can be applied to areas of the body to provide shadowing and muscle tone. This means that the images that vulnerable young people are seeing on social media are not realistic representations of human bodies, but instead edited, unachievable targets for unhealthy body changes.

Unfortunately, young people who follow various pro eating disorder pages may associate that pictures of thinner people will get more likes. What’s really important to remember here is that these images, diet plans and exercise routines on these sites are often posted by either individuals who are extremely ill themselves, or people who have used various editing techniques to appear as emaciated as people who are severely underweight, in order to get likes themselves.

Educating children and young people about the dangers of social media is incredibly important, and what really helps is if you as a parent are aware of its impact, and how to talk about it. We have provided some advice on how to talk to your teenager about social media below, which may be helpful for those less familiar.

Talking to teenagers about social media

Some parents and carers find it really difficult to talk to their teenagers about how they use social media. Are they looking at harmful material? Should I take away their phone? How do I make sure they are protected? 

Here are some tips:

  • Have the conversation early and often

Because the internet has become so embedded in the lives of children and young people, it’s important to open up the conversation early. It can be difficult to isolate a long period of time to talk to your child or teenager about online safety, so little and often is a good rule of thumb to go by.

  • Explore online together

Don’t be afraid to show a genuine interest in what your child does online; ask them to show you their favourite app or game. This puts the child in the expert seat; you’re learning from them while supporting and encouraging online safety.

  • Know who your child is talking to online

Children and young people can often get confused about what a “friend” is online. They are able to meet new people through social media and online games. It’s important to explain to your child that it’s easy for people to lie about themselves online, because they have never met them.

  • Set rules and agree boundaries

Children and young people can often get confused about what a “friend” is online. They are able to meet new people through social media and online games. It’s important to explain to your child that it’s easy for people to lie about themselves online, because they have never met them.

  • Make sure that content is age-appropriate

Make sure that what your child is looking at online is suitable for them. Age limits for websites are in place for a reason.

  • Use parental controls

Don’t be afraid to use parental controls. These can be really helpful in preventing your child from seeing unsuitable or harmful content. However, make sure these are adjusted for your child’s age as appropriate, and be open to discussions of removing the filters if it’s deemed appropriate.

  • Check they know how to use privacy settings

Make sure your child is aware of privacy settings and knows how to report harmful behaviour. The majority of social media platforms that require an account to be set up will have adjustable privacy settings; it’s not just important to teach your child how to use them, but for you to be aware of what your child may be vulnerable to.

To find out more, head over to the NSPCC website. NSPCC have paired up with O2 to ensure children remain safe online while they socialise, play, and have fun.

www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety

  • It's not all bad!

Although social media can seem a terrifying and dangerous place for young people, when it is used safely, social media can be an excellent way for young people to connect to friends, and keep up to date with what’s going on in the world.

Many platforms have begun to place warning adverts of some content promoting eating disorders, and others have begun to ban certain tags that are searched for. However, it is impossible for these large companies to rid this content.

Most importantly, social media has the opportunity and ability to combat detrimental content with empowering, health, recovery focused messages. There are many pages, tags, groups and blogs that promote eating disorder recovery.

  • References

Andreassen, C. S., Pallesen, S., & Griffiths, M. D. (2016). The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addictive behaviors.

Burrow, A. L., & Rainone, N. (2016). How many likes did I get?: Purpose moderates links between positive social media feedback and self-esteem. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Woods, H. C., & Scott, H. (2016). # Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of Adolescence, 51, 41-49.

Last updated: 2 April, 2019