Several years ago, I took my family out for ice cream while vacationing at the beach. In line, we stood behind a group of middle school girls. All of them stared at their phones, scrolling on Instagram. The girl closest to me scrolled through 20 pictures in about five seconds. I was surprised, because she was scrolling so fast, that she liked half the photos. She gave each picture less than a glance before she moved on. Meanwhile, the girls were missing the fact that they were together in real life. They were ignoring each other and the sights, sounds, and smells of the ice cream shop.
I’m not against Instagram. I have it on my phone and look at it a lot—probably too much. It’s a fun app that provides an easy way to share pictures and be entertained. At the same time, there are dangers to it, not only for our kids but for us too. Here are 5 dangers of Instagram.
I don’t post much on Instagram, but when I do, I often see a like or a view from a user I don’t recognize. When I look at those users’ profiles, they often link to porn sites. Whereas I’m experienced enough to recognize the trap and block the user, kids might wander into it, whether unknowingly or willingly. There are a lot of dangers of pornography, especially for kids. Make sure you talk to your kids about who follows them. If they don’t know a follower, make sure they block him or her. The app’s “explore” feed is another problem. After a couple of clicks into questionable content, it can become like a bad neighborhood.
2. Getting Sucked In
Instagram has algorithms designed to give users what they want. If you stop on a picture, Instagram times you—the more time you spend on a post, the more likely the algorithm will be to feed you similar posts. This is one of the reasons the app is so addictive—it spoonfeeds you your desired content. This keeps your eyes, and your kids’ eyes, locked on the phone, potentially all the time.
An algorithm doesn’t have scruples. It’s simply a set of equations designed to give you content that you’ll want to see. It doesn’t care whether that content is true and it doesn’t know if you’ll know the difference. The result is exposure to one side instead of to many perspectives and often exposure to misinformation that reinforces our biases. That’s why it’s so important to follow some people and publications on Instagram that you disagree with. The former CEO of Pinterest, Tim Kendall, who doesn’t let anyone in his house use social media, believes that if we continue on our path, we will end up in a civil war. Of all of the dangers of Instagram, this is the scariest.
In multiple surveys, people have reported experiencing depression if they spend two or more hours a day on Instagram. We compare our lives and how we look to others and feel like we fall short. When we see people taking amazing trips, we feel envious. Sometimes, we see a group of people together and feel left out. This is a big problem among teens. And it’s not surprising. Instagram throws a lot of information at our brains. A mentor of mine once said that when we consume too much information, it results in one of these three things: we get depressed, go insane, or fall asleep.
5. Lack of SleepViewing a screen close to bedtime is one of the worst things we can do for our sleep cycles.
We need sleep to be healthy and, unfortunately, it’s something we sacrifice too often. Some people even glorify their lack of sleep. According to one of my mentors, the alternative to a lack of sleep is insanity or depression—and I agree. Instagram will lure a person into scrolling right before bed. Viewing a screen close to bedtime is one of the worst things we can do for our sleep cycles. If you and your family need to keep your devices out of your bedrooms in order to stop scrolling at night, then do it. It’s worth it. In fact, your mental health may depend on it.
Sound off: What are some other dangers of Instagram?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What social media app do your friends use the most? What’s your favorite?”