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Instagram Kids Development Delayed in Light of Negative Impact on Kids

A young teenage girl looks at her phone.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new Instagram app, targeted just at kids ages 10-13, has been in the works but is now paused.
  • Developers have paused progress after mental health advocates have been speaking up against increasing social media use.
  • Experts explain why more social media is the opposite of what kids need.

Instagram Kids is a Facebook-owned app designed specifically for children ages 10-12. The new app would be advertisement-free, require parent permission for use, and feature specific content targeted towards this age group. But in late September 2021, after massive backlash from parents, physicians, and the mental health community in general, progress has been paused on its development.

In May 2021, 44 attorneys approached Facebook encouraging them to quit the project to protect children's mental health. An investigative report from the Wall Street Journal, "Facebook Knows Instagram is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show," revealed that Facebook was moving ahead with a project that could potentially hurt young girls especially.

The specific concerns with Instagram Kids include cyberbullying and easy access for online predators to contact children. Facebook paused the app development indefinitely, saying in a statement by Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, that they will be focusing on increasing parental supervision aspects of their current available platforms.

Experts weigh in on the pros and cons of Instagram Kids, and what parents and teenagers should be considering about screen time and social media usage.

Instagram Kids: A Space to Call Their Own or a Dangerous Platform?

Facebook has long been searching for just the right way to launch Instagram Kids, which would mimic Instagram—one of the most popular photo-sharing social media platforms. The Wall Street Journal report revealed that Facebook knows that Instagram Kids has the potential to harm teenagers, prompting initiatives to shut down its development.

Their main concern is that teenagers, especially girls, spend hours per day inundated with images of the perfect body, and perfect life, among other issues.

The app, which Instagram is currently reconsidering, would feature “age-appropriate content and features,” for younger children, Mosseri said in the statement. It would give parents the ability to see and control various aspects of their kids’ online presence within it.  But not everyone is in agreement that a space for young teens to congregate exclusively is the safest option.

Debate Over Increased Use of Social Media for Children

Experts are hesitant about another platform that increases social media use in an already at-risk population.

“Instagram Kids is a horrible idea,” says Renee Solomon, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, CEO, and Director of Forward Recovery. “Why would we encourage children to become addicted to social media at a younger age? We want our children to go out and play and be social with other children in person.”

She says this would just be one more way that teens could access increased amounts of screen time. This doesn’t help with brain development or learning social skills, as studies suggest that excessive screen time, in general, can contribute to undeveloped social skills and a form of addictive behavior.

Social media use, on top of that, can have additional ramifications for young teens. They may be worried about how many likes they are getting or absorbing exorbitant amounts of edited images, which can impact self-esteem.

Renee Solomon, PsyD

Social media is awful for children. It makes them feel not good enough and left out.

— Renee Solomon, PsyD

“Social media is awful for children," Dr. Solomon says. "It makes them feel not good enough and left out.  Kids have always felt left out when they are not invited to a birthday party." Now, she says, that party is publicized for everyone to see on Instagram, further contributing to the extent of the issue.

"Children and adolescents are naturally self-conscious and feel like everyone is looking at them. When they are left out of a photo, they think that everyone notices this as well,” she adds.

Dr. Solomon worries that this particular app will only increase cases of this sort of self-esteem concern.

Why Young Girls are Especially Vulnerable to Instagram’s Influence

Instagram is an extremely visual medium, which has an impact on young girls especially. “Young girls see pictures of celebrities and believe that they have to look exactly like Kylie Jenner to be beautiful," Dr. Solomon says. "Many of these pictures are photo-shopped or are shot from specific angles, and utilize very flattering light."

Allison Chase, Ph.D., regional clinical director of Eating Recovery Center, agrees. "[Instagram is] a world in which everything is edited and not necessarily reality,” she says. She believes the development of an Instagram program targeting children and young teens is “irresponsible.”

“Social media offers a constant way to compare yourself to others and to rely on superficial means of building self-esteem, such as how many likes or comments you get on a post,” she says. “And unlike magazines or TV and movies, where even kids generally know there’s a certain amount of professional makeup and editing happening, social media gives the impression that it’s more ‘real,’ when it can be anything but.”

Young girls and teenagers are also susceptible to diet culture influence, which is highly prevalent on social media. Dr. Chase says the platform "glorifies thinness" while simultaneously promoting negative health habits to achieve it, and it celebrates weight loss even when it's medically ill-advised.

“Social media perpetuates a cruel stigma against people living in larger bodies," she notes. Social media's ease in creating filters and spreading edited images may contribute.

"Unfiltered social media can indoctrinate our kids with problematic beliefs that large bodies are unattractive, unhealthy, and even an indication of low character or weakness. Obviously, this can be dangerously impactful to kids living in those larger bodies and for other kids who become afraid of changing body shapes and sizes,” Dr. Chase says.

This is especially concerning given that one in six children ages 6 to 11 and one in five teenagers ages 12 to 19 are considered obese, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Daniel Peters, Ph.D. is a psychologist and host of the podcast Parent Footprint with Dr. Dan on Exactly Right. Dr. Peters worries about social media’s impact on girls especially as well. On one hand, he claims social media can increase the chances of eating disorders and decrease mental health.

“Recent information, as well as my clinical experience, has highlighted how girls, in particular, are vulnerable to negative body comparisons and negative body images by looking at pictures and videos of girls with ‘perfect’ bodies,” Dr. Peters says.

On the other hand, Dr. Peters acknowledges that there could be safety benefits to a social media platform such as Instagram Kids. "There is an argument that can be made that having a specific platform for kids could be safer with more controls and age-appropriate content, as well as keeping kids from using the adult versions of the app," he says.

While he sees the benefit for older teens and adults, he hopes parents will delay young teens' dive into this world until later. "It would be prudent to consider keeping children away from social media for as long as possible, rather than developing a platform for them," Dr. Peters suggests.

Potential Benefits of a Kid-Specific Instagram

There could be some benefit to getting younger kids off of 'grown-up' Instagram and on to a more regulated space of their own. This follows the mindset that if they are going to be on social media anyway, we might as well make a safer space for them.

Social media, whether through Instagram Kids or other apps, can have other benefits such as connecting kids to their friends when they can't physically be together, increasing self-esteem by following body-positive influencers, and as a creative outlet where they can edit and create text, images, and videos.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Dan Peters, Ph.D, Psychologist

The problem is that most platforms for kids...will likely be used for advertising and marketing products, and have the possibility of attracting sexual predators

— Dan Peters, Ph.D, Psychologist


“The problem is that most platforms for kids are likely to end up encouraging increased use and creating a fear of missing out on something, will likely be used for advertising and marketing products, and have the possibility of attracting sexual predators,” Dr. Peters says. His hope is that all the stakeholders seriously consider the mental and physical health implications of what they are creating, and its' impact on kids.

Therefore, the risks of creating an additional social media outlet might outweigh the benefits according to the experts. It is a topic that researchers are just starting to scratch the surface of, especially in regards to long-term implications. 

What This Means For You

While a specific Instagram for kids might seem more useful and "safer" at first, experts worry that creating a specific social media platform for children in the 10-12 age group can draw danger to them, instead of enhancing their lives. Parents and caregivers should dig into the potential mental and physical health implications. They should also limit social media and screen time and encourage kids to get outside to play, and to make real-life connections, experts say.

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