Weight-related bullying risk goes up the more time teens spend on social media: study


There are a lot of risks when it comes to adolescents using screens — and a new multinational study shows weight-related bullying may be among them.

The more time adolescents spend on screens and social media, the greater the likelihood that they will be bullied about their weight, according to the study.


The study, published Wednesday in PLOS One, analyzed data from the 2020 International Food Policy Study Youth Survey and involved more than 12,000 adolescents from ages 10 to 17 in Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Each additional hour of social media use was equivalent to a 13 per cent increase in prevalence of experiencing weight-related bullying,” said lead study author Dr. Kyle Ganson, assistant professor in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto.

Use of Twitter, now called X, and Twitch were associated with the greatest increase in weight-related bullying, with a 69 per cent and 49 per cent increase, respectively, the study showed.

An X spokesperson said the social media platform’s policies had evolved since the data was first collected. “X has made significant changes to all its policies and enforcement protocols to protect minors, despite having less than 1 per cent of U.S. users aged 13-17 and strictly prohibiting children under 13 from having an account,” said Joe Benarroch, head of business operations at X, via email.

A spokesperson for Twitch said the platform prioritizes user safety and applies community guidelines to all of its content.

“Harassment has no place on Twitch, or anywhere online,” said a Twitch spokesperson Elizabeth Busby via email. “We actively enforce these rules and have developed a number of tools, like AutoMod, which helps prevent harmful messages from appearing in chat conversations.

“We’ll continue to seek feedback from our community about their experiences on Twitch, including our Safety Advisory Council, Ambassadors, and Guilds. This feedback is invaluable, as we actively review and update our policies to better address evolving harmful behaviors.”

“We also want to underscore that users under the age of 13 are not allowed to use Twitch, and we leverage a range of tools to prevent the creation of these accounts,” Busby added.

The results are not surprising, given the well-established relationship between social media use and problems such as disordered eating and poor body image, said Kendrin Sonneville, associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Sonneville was not involved in the research.

“Weight stigma and bias are common on social media,” Ganson said in an email. “These findings highlight that adolescents are encountering bullying specifically related to weight, which may further increase the risk for the development of poor body image, disordered eating, and depression and anxiety.”

Don’t side with the bully

Sometimes the desire to help your child avoid being bullied can become really unhelpful, said Oona Hanson, a parenting coach based in Los Angeles.

“Every fiber of (a parent’s) being wants to prevent their kid from going through that,” Hanson said. “And because of the way our culture works, it seems like, ‘Oh, well, the simple solution is just let’s make the body different so that this child’s body won’t be teased or bullied.’”

Sonneville has seen such an approach play out all too often.

“Unfortunately, I have seen parents try to support their child through experiences of weight-based bullying by suggesting that they try to ‘eat healthier’ or ‘lose some weight,’” she said in an email. “Young people, no matter what their body size, do not deserve to be ridiculed or mistreated because of their weight.”

If your attempts to help send the message that your adolescent should change their body, you may accidentally end up siding with the bully instead of your child, she said.

“Because for the child’s experience, now the bully is telling them their body is wrong, and the parent is saying, ‘Yes, let’s fix your body,’” Hanson added.

To be on your child’s side, it is important to validate their feelings, remind them that the bullying is the problem — not their body — and listen, she said.

“We can talk too much as parents, and we really need to try to listen and let our kids know that their feelings matter and that we want to hear that,” Hanson said.

Opening up about the realities of social media

One of the positives that can come out of this latest research is if families use it to understand the digital environment their kids are navigating better and to open up conversations around it, Ganson said.

“Social media use is ubiquitous among adolescents,” he added. “It’s important for adults in their lives to be aware of their use, the content they are engaging with, and supporting media literacy to ensure they use social media appropriately and are protected from potential harms.”


Ganson recommends having conversations with your kids about bullying, particularly related to weight, and how they can think about the comments they may see online.

Then, you can come up with solutions together on how to handle social media moving forward, Hanson said.

Your children’s school may have support resources, your kids may decide to make their accounts private, or your family might put limitations on screen time, Hanson said.

“Weight-based bullying can have a significant impact on the health of young people and should be taken seriously,” Sonneville said.

Share this
Tags

Must-read

N.W.T. leaders worry wildfires, low water will mean even longer delay for much-needed housing units

Seniors in five N.W.T. communities expecting to move into new homes earlier this spring will now have to wait until at least summer, because of wildfires...

PC candidate says comments on recruiting doctors from India and Pakistan weren’t meant to be derogatory

Lin Paddock, the Progressive Conservative candidate in the upcoming Baie Verte-Green Bay byelection, said Tuesday that comments he made about recruiting doctors in India...

Repairs near completion at Rissers Beach Provincial Park after storm damage

Eight months after post-tropical storm Lee tore through Rissers Beach Provincial Park on Nova Scotia's South Shore, repairs are moving into the final stages.  Rissers...

Recent articles

More like this

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here