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Student Research Guide WQ23/ Instagram's Harm to Teenage Users

By Jasmine Lofton

Major Findings From This Research

Major Findings


  • Social media as a whole can be harmful to teenagers' mental and physical health, but Instagram has been countlessly rated as the worst platform out of them all. When compared to other platforms like Youtube, Facebook, and Snapchat, Instagram continuously is rated the worst in terms of damaging teenage users' self-esteem. This negative impact can cause insecurities in body image, FOMO (fear of missing out), anxiety, and Depression; making Instagram in particular a contributor to the 70% increase teenagers are facing in depression and anxiety over the past 25 years. 

  • Instagram has an impact on teenagers eating habits. This is due to the platform having big corporations such as McDonald's or Starbucks that promote their food and brand to Instagram's userbase. Since Instagram has a high demographic of teenage users, this causes them to be at a greater risk to fall for these marketing tactics, especially when corporations partner with major celebrities or influencers to promote their items to the demographic.

  • Physical health is impacted by Instagram consumption. Currently, teenagers are getting less physical exercise which increases the risk of depression, obesity, and anxiety. The increase in social media and Instagram consumption increases sedentary activity. Even when exposed to fitness social media content that encourages users to exercise, sedentary activity increases due to sitting down to watch the content. Studies show that teenage boys are at a greater increase for obesity when compared to girls as well.

  • Instagram has a large impact on teenage girls. As Instagram is a platform dedicated to posting the best version of yourself or your life, teenage girls tend to compare themselves (particularly their bodies) to photos they see on the platform. The comparison causes teenage girls to be more likely to develop insecurities about their bodies because they feel like they do not match up to the beauty standard they see online. Although most teenage girls recognize that many Instagram posts are edited, internalized comparisons still happen when seeing unrealistic posts of another girls body. 

  • Using Instagram can worsen a teenager's mental health. Some mental illnesses that are commonly seen from daily Instagram use are depression/depressive symptoms and anxiety. As Instagram's platform is marketed to show the best version of one's self this creates insecurities for the users of the app, causing them to not feel good enough about themselves. 

  • Teenage girls are more at risk for developing mental health problems due to Instagram usage because they are the majority of Instagram users, spend more time on the app on average, and are more likely to compare themselves to what they see online. As such, teenage girls' mental health is on average worse than teenage boys. Their decline in mental health can cause depression, anxiety, and insecurities about their body. Their worsened mental health can also cause physical health problems like eating disorders.

  • Daily use of Instagram can cause teenagers to face difficulty sleeping every night because of the increase in blue light emitted from phones and other devices which causes the body to reduce melatonin production. Using Instagram at night is worse than using it during the day, although, both have a negative effect on the circadian rhythm. Loss of sleep also increases the risk of developing other mental and physical health issues such as depression, anxiety, and obesity. As a result, unknowing teenagers who use Instagram at night are putting themself at more risk to have sleep loss.

Research Advice and Reflection

Advice for future researchers:

When researching, I found some good articles from the databases but don't be afraid to search outside of them as most of the scholarly sources I found were on Google. Be sure to investigate the source before you use it. Look into the publisher to see if they are known to be credible (scholarly and trustworthy). Scholarly journals do not always provide the general information that is needed; in that case, look into news sites that are well-established and trustworthy. I found to be a great source to use for general information because they also cite their references for the information they use.

Reflection on research experience:

The reflection on Instagram's impact on teenagers went well and I was very successful in my findings. There were some difficulties in deciding the best topics to choose from as there are many negative effects Instagram has, but ultimately, I decided to put these effects into categories relating to either the physical, psychological, or circadian rhythm. The most interesting aspect of my information collecting was the study conducted to determine that Instagram was the most negative social media platform for teenagers. I always knew social media was bad for teenagers, but through this investigation, I was able to take a deeper look and create a deeper understanding as to why this platform is so bad for teens. After learning about all the harmful ways Instagram can impact a teenager I will be personally looking into my own daily life and taking the extra time to be more cautious about the duration and content I am intaking when on Instagram.

Other: Addiction

Good Sources Specifically Discussing Addiction of Social Media:

Adorjan, M. & Ricciardelli, R. (2021). Smartphone and social media addiction: Exploring the perceptions and experiences of Canadian teenagers. Canadian Review of Sociology, 58(1), 45-64.

  • Interesting findings from the source:

“thirty-nine percent of students who have cell phones sleep with them in case they get calls or messages during the night” (Adorjan & Ricciardelli, 2021).

"nearly half would be upset or unhappy if they had to unplug for anything other than school work for a week" (Adorjan & Ricciardelli, 2021).

"Respondents were asked about their views of teens’ online actions in general, their putative addictive behaviours with smart phones, and if they agreed with popular assessments that youth are “hooked” excessively to their technologies. Most references of addiction, though, were from female groups (55) with only five references made by male groups" (Adorjan & Ricciardelli, 2021).

Inkster, B., Morrel, M., Pantic, I., Powell, J., & Fergie, G. (2017). #StatusOfMind: Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing. Royal Society of Public Health and Youth Health Movement, .1-32.

  • Interesting findings from the source:

"Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol" (Inkster et al., 2017).


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