We’re Just Kids, Instagram

Instagram’s business model deliberately sacrifices its users’ health and happiness to drive engagement and profit. We know the younger generation will shape the future—the stakes are too high for the status quo to continue.

More than 40 percent of Instagram users are 22 years old and younger. About 22 million teens log onto Instagram in the U.S. each day. (Pixabay / Creative Commons)

I was 13 years old when my parents spoke the highly-anticipated sentence: “Yes, you can get Instagram.” I had no idea what I was walking into—but Instagram did. The platform prioritizes expanding its base and pockets over protecting the mental health and well-being of its users. This must change.

As multiple news sources have recently revealed, Instagram and its parent company Facebook are fully aware of the harm Instagram inflicts on its users, especially teenage girls. Its meticulously-designed platform targets our insecurities, feeds unhealthy comparisons and sets unrealistic expectations, inviting teens into a trap of self-doubt. In many ways, Instagram hijacks our abilities to take care of ourselves.

As an eighth grader, I quickly grew to crave Instagram’s colorful screen despite knowing it could fuel tears just as easily as a smile. Gradually, social media’s grasp infiltrated my life outside the app.

Throughout the school year, I would spend hours editing makeup onto selfies and mindlessly scrolling through strangers’ posts instead of doing homework, feel nearly physical pain if a friend didn’t reciprocate my follow request, and arrive late to crew practice while waiting to see if the boy I liked had messaged me back. When on vacation, I retreated from my extended family, choosing to hole up in my room instead of playing, laughing and engaging with some of my favorite people. Again and again, I sacrificed self-care and meaningful experiences for the easy escape of Instagram. My connections with friends and family deteriorated and my overall well-being plummeted.

Again and again, I sacrificed self-care and meaningful experiences for the easy escape of Instagram.

My experiences with Instagram echo those of thousands of youth. Teenagers are in one of the most vulnerable stages of life. As we simultaneously explore our own identity and navigate the complexities of academics and relationships, we’re bombarded with images that undermine our confidence and intensify stress and anxiety.

Through my work as a digital wellness youth activist, I’ve connected with hundreds of teens who, like me, feel that social media profoundly exacerbates their mental health struggles. These far-reaching impacts are now proven in Facebook’s own research. Instagram’s business model deliberately sacrifices its users’ health and happiness to drive engagement and profit. In a country where we know the younger generation will shape our society’s future, the stakes are too high for this status quo to continue.

After 15 months on Instagram, I clicked the “Delete Your Account” button. I went through all four years of high school without a personal Instagram account. In my first month of college, I’ve had to announce countless times that I don’t have Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram. I see surprise and confusion cross people’s eyes and then… it fades. I give them my number and we text to meet up for lunch, developing an in-person social network. In the absence of Instagram’s pull and pressures, my well-being has flourished, and I believe many other teens would feel the same effects by taking a step back from the platform’s self-serving, profit-driven strategies.
Social media should not be the core of teenagerhood. I want young people to relearn that we can be okay without Instagram, remembering that humans have evolved to deal with discomfort, find connections in unfamiliar spaces, and adapt to new situations. 

I want you, Instagram, to remind us of this too. Use your power to support teens’ social-emotional growth and leverage inclusion. Stop employing algorithms that target us in our most vulnerable moments. Fill the “Explore” page with content promoting diversity and positivity. Call off—don’t simply pause—your plans to develop Instagram Youth. Use the research you’ve gathered to quit galvanizing harm and instead create ways to continue your uphill trajectory without hurting youth.

We’re just kids, Instagram. Let us stay that way.

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Aliza Kopans is a first-year at Brown University and a digital wellness youth activist serving on Fairplay's Action Network Advisory Board and LookUp.Live's Teen Leadership Council. Co-creator of "Dear Parents," a digital well-being resource from teens to parents and co-founder of "Tech(nically) Politics," a youth-led movement aimed at changing governmental regulations of digital spaces, Aliza works to create change towards a human—not screen—focused world.