Snapchat Filters and Tween Self-Esteem

A mother concerned with her daughter's Snapchat use turns to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for advice.

Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where you can drop 10 pounds, put on makeup effortlessly and look your best in just a few seconds? In the virtual world of Snapchat you can. It was the filters and privacy of Snapchat that piqued my curiosity a few months ago.

I had seen many of my Facebook friends post pretty profile pictures of themselves with flower wreaths around their heads. Their eyes had a twinkle I’d never seen before, and I was determined to see what Snapchat was about.

My kids aren’t allowed to have social media accounts. It’s an executive decision I made as mom. My oldest, a tween, complains that she is “literally, the only girl in school who doesn’t have social media.” I solved this problem by allowing her to use my accounts. She follows cute animal pictures on my Instagram, and I’m fine with that.

When I first opened the account, it was a lot of fun. The app allows a user to superimpose filters over their face in real-time and take photographs and videos. Most of the filters are silly, some are sexy, and some are just plain scary.

My kids loved it, and spent most of their screen time taking selfies of themselves with these filters. What kid wouldn’t love to instantaneously transform into a dog, cat or lamb? Snapchat looks like it’s designed for kids. The filters are animated, bright and cartoon-like.

After a few weeks of use, I scrolled through the saved images on my camera roll, and I noticed that my tween took less and less pictures of her natural self. Most of her pictures had filters applied to them. Many of them made her look older than her age. Her face looked slimmer, her eyes bigger and sparkled, and her skin tone lightened and smoothed. She liked her filtered pictures. I didn’t.

I especially didn’t like the French maid filter or the Bratz one. These filters piled on lipstick, eyeliner and mascara. What happened to the innocent pictures of my daughter with wild hair, crossed eyes and a silly face?

From television to magazines and now social media, our girls are shown standards of beauty that are nearly impossible for any woman to attain, let alone a 13 year old girl, which is the age a Snapchat user has to be to open up an account. To look at a picture in a magazine and not see yourself isn’t the same as looking in the mirror and not seeing your filtered self.

Looking for advice, I turned to my friend and metro Detroiter, Dr. Saba Maroof, a child and adolescent psychiatrist. She advises parents not be too alarmed. “As long as you’re having conversations with your kids, telling them they’re beautiful without filters and don’t need to change their features, that can guide them to have a healthy perspective,” she says.

Dr. Maroof doesn’t see the filters being much different than putting on makeup. These filters play into the idea of self presentation, and teenagers are known to spend a lot of time curating their image.

What about shutting down a Snapchat account, which was my first instinct after noticing the lack of natural, normal pictures? Dr. Maroof encourages parents to set rules around technology early on with their children because it’s much easier than taking it away.

“It’s hard for a child if all their friends are on an app. Imagine how it felt when you were younger and left out of a party that all your friends were at. That fear of missing out, FOMO, is all the time now because their friends are plugged in 24/7,” she says.

However, Dr. Maroof adds, “We have to emphasize real life interactions, relationships and authenticity with our kids. Filters are but the latest means of a very curated public presentation of ourselves. As adults, we can watch them have fun with it but if it’s replacing all interaction, we have to step in and guide.”

Taking the doctor’s advice, I decided not to delete my account, but rather limit the amount of time my children and I spend on it. The less attention I give it, the less my kids do too. I definitely will think twice before I download the next, new, “it” social media app. I’m not the only one who’s going to be on it. My phone and social media are a family affair.

What do you think of Snapchat? Do your kids use it? Tell us in comments.


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