Instagram and self-esteem: How many ‘likes’ are enough?

(Courtesy: Instagram)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Every day, 92 percent of teens report going online to use some form of social media, according to a Pew Research study.

Fifty-two percent of those teens between the ages of 13 and 17 choose Instagram.

Some would say it’s not only how much time we spend on the app but how we use it. The language we choose and photos we post can all have an effect, especially on young girls.

It’s human nature to be competitive and want to be liked, but when is it too much? How many likes are enough?

Rachel and Elena are twin sisters in the seventh grade, and they have had Instagram for about six months.

“It definitely makes me feel a little bit better when more people like it, but when I notice a photo doesn’t get a lot of likes, it might cross my mind a little bit – does someone just not like this picture or do they not like me?” Rachel said.

“I was really nervous about them being on Instagram,” said their mom Jennifer. “But once they hit middle school, everybody had Instagram and they begged me for it.”

Though the girls’ mom was not on board with it right away, their family was able to figure out a way to make it work where the girls could get what they want and their mom could monitor what they do.

“I follow them on Instagram, so I see what they post, but I’m also able to login as them,” Jennifer said. “You can toggle between your accounts. They hate that! But I can do it and see if they have any private messages, who they’ve started following, who started following them.”

While the girls compare their accounts with each others’ at home, they say among their friends who has the most likes doesn’t really matter.

“It doesn’t really get to me if they have more likes or more followers than me because it’s just Instagram. It’s not real life,” Rachel said.

Jennifer’s concern wasn’t as much their addiction to the app as it was the repercussions of what her girls might see.

“That was what I was really scared about more than anything was are they going to see pictures of a party they weren’t invited to or is a friend hanging out with another person and ignoring them,” said Jennifer.

Mental Health Specialist and Licensed Professional Counselor Stacy Hernandez is with All Ages Counseling in Knoxville and says early teens are in a self-concept stage at this point in their lives, one that’s heavily impacted by social media.

“If I’m trying to figure out who I am, and I’m trying to figure out how and what people see me as, then do I want to set up a positive feature of myself, or do I just want to put out a message of can I be liked?” said Hernandez.

In extreme cases, Hernandez says that can sometimes lead to depression or even anxiety, or it could do the exact opposite and boost your self-esteem. Either way risk is involved.

“Because they are trying to identify themselves and they are looking for that validation. They’re looking for that popularity, for that comparison,” Hernandez said. “It’s the stage their brain is in right now and they don’t understand it.”

According to Hernandez, human brains don’t fully develop until the late twenties, however many if not most teens won’t wait that long before joining social media, so what can you as the parent do?

First, evaluate their privacy settings. Maybe limit your child’s exposure online. When they do post, encourage them to post something they like, not necessarily something that requires them to receive attention. Encourage them to use Instagram lightly. Let the app be used as a tool for fun rather than competition and a scale for self-esteem.

“Unfortunately Instagram can ruin your self-esteem. Depends on how you use it,” said Hernandez.

What can you do if you’re already in this mindset? Thankfully, Instagram can be deleted. Pictures can be deleted. Take the opportunity to re-invent yourself and get rid of what may have brought you anxiety and stress and start fresh.