Are Photo Filters Harmful To My Child?

Harmless fun or a threat to your teen’s body image? Let’s take a look at how filters can affect the way our teen sees themselves…

Most of us have used filters at some point in our lives. Most of the apps we use every single day include a filter feature to allow the user to amend and adjust everything from light, shape and even hair colour. With these tools, we can tweak and bend our images in a way that was once only achieved by an expert with Photoshop.

Teens & Filters

There’s no-one more adept at tuning a selfie than our teens. In fact, you may have scanned your teen’s Insta page and barely recognised the young adult you see in day-to-day life because their image has been so completely adapted. That gorgeous kid you know and love is hiding behind a filtered photo – and it can fill you with unease and concerns for your teen’s well-being and their own perceived judgement of themselves.

The Problem With Filters

This is where filters can become a problem. Many teens will use filters to boost their image in line with what they think people will want to see. They want to be admired or even just accepted – and don’t we all? This is perfectly normal. However, while these filtered images can give a person a short-term boost of confidence, it may cause more long-term damage to mental health. People become accustomed to their filtered image and disappointed or angry that their real-life body and face don’t match up.

Effects On Body Image

This can have a huge effect on a person’s body image. Teenagers, in particular, are at an age where they often feel unhappy in their own skin and suffer from breakouts and body changes due to puberty. Filters are a fast-fix for a selfie of a teen who has acne, for example, but it doesn’t take away the condition and it doesn’t change their reflection in the mirror, leaving the teen feeling low and wishing they could magically transform themselves in real-life, just as they do on Snapchat.

It’s not just their own selfies they have to contend with. Teens also spend a huge amount of time online, looking at celebrities and stars whose images are airbrushed and perfected to within an inch of their lives. It’s very often not reality – we know that. But your teen might not. And that’s when it can become damaging because our young adults are looking at images that are portraying an ideal that is quite simply unachievable.

What Can I Do?

While you can’t remove filters completely from your teen’s life, you can talk to them about the importance of Instagram versus Reality – AKA, filtered images versus real-life.

  • Talk About Social Media

A good way to do this is to look at celebrities as an example. Explain to your teen how celebrities have an entire cast of hair and fashion stylists, make-up artists and professional photographers to create one single photo. Not only is that not achievable and therefore your teen should never feel less worthy, it’s also completely unrealistic. Even celebs have their off-days or have a camera roll filled with unflattering photos. That’s real life.

It’s also worth reminding your teen that anyone on social media is only ever going to share their best bits. We don’t see the images they consider less than perfect but that doesn’t mean those images don’t exist. Encourage your teen to follow more body positive celebs on their social media accounts to help reinforce body positivity and confidence in their own skin.

  • Set A Positive Example

If you use filters on your own images but feel comfortable enough to do it, why not bin the filters and post a happy, unfiltered selfie of yourself? You could even take it one stage further and vow to bin the filters for good.

Flick through the photo albums or pics on your phone and ask your teen to choose their three favourite photos of you while you pick your three favourite images of your teen. Once you’ve both made your choices, talk through each one and tell the other person why you love a particular photo so much. Focus on picking out body positive things like, “I love how happy you look in this one!” or “Look how big your smile is!” to reinforce just how beautiful they are without filters. This can be a brilliant body-reinforcing exercise for both of you. We bet your teen picks photos of you where you’re bare-faced and happy, not made-up, filtered or posing awkwardly in your fanciest clothes.

When To Get More Help

If you’re concerned that your teen’s mental health is being severely affected by low body image, please know that there is lots of help out there for you and your child. Whether you’re worried about depression, anxiety or an eating disorder, you can talk to your GP to talk over your concerns and to get more help. You can find out more about eating disorders here or at Beat, the UK’s Eating Disorder Charity.


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