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Navigating Social Media

Without my parents' knowledge, I downloaded Instagram at the age of eight. Eight. 

People are usually horrified when I tell them this. But as the youngest child with siblings significantly older than me, I longed to have access to the internet that they had. So, as a second grader with an iPod, I set up my first Instagram account and I’ve had it ever since. 

I learned from a very young age how easy it is to curate your image online. From second to fifth grade, I matured rapidly, and over time, I adopted an online presence and an Instagram following far beyond what a middle schooler should have.

It is extremely embarrassing to admit the grasp that my Instagram presence still has on me ten years later. It’s curated to look effortless, but I allow it all to be a much more draining aspect of my life than it needs to be. 

I find Instagram to be the most difficult social media to navigate; I’ve had TikTok deleted for over two years without a problem, but I have a hard time imagining myself deleting Instagram, especially as I approach college next year. There is no fighting the centrality of social media to our relationships nowadays. 

And beyond just posting on Instagram, I’m completely addicted to consuming the media that’s fed to me on it. It is so perfectly curated to show me exactly what I’ll engage with, and far too often, I waste hours scrolling through absolutely meaningless videos (next time you finish doom scrolling, ask yourself: Did I just learn anything? Can I remember clearly a single piece of media that I just watched? I don’t know about you, but when I do this, my answer is typically no and no).

So how can we navigate our social media use, specifically on apps like Instagram?

  1. Be transparent with yourself about your intentions online.

For the social media accounts that you have, ask yourself what your goals are. 

Do you have Instagram for the sole purpose of keeping up with friends and family? Do you treat it as a digital diary? Is it a platform for your art? A way to showcase your style? Are you looking to monetize off of your content? Do you have it for recipe inspiration?

Setting clear intentions about the reason that you have a social media account can help alleviate unnecessary stress and help you to be more mindful about how you use it.

  1. Recognize the way that your social media use makes you feel.

Does it inspire you? Does it motivate you? Does it connect you to your community? Or does it feel draining? Do you find yourself wasting your day on it? Do you tend to put your phone down feeling more insecure than when you first picked it up?

Sometimes, depending on the day, this may vary, but being mindful of how social media makes you feel can help you determine if you need to make a change in the way that you use it.

  1. Pay attention to the content you’re consuming, and perhaps, alter it.

Is what you’re seeing aligned with the intentions for your internet use? 

Remember, the algorithm knows what you’ll engage with - for better or for worse. If you find that you’re being fed content that is a bit too addicting for you, or perhaps content that makes you feel anxious or insecure, there are settings that you can use to block it. I like to press the “not interested” button on my Instagram Explore page, and there are even settings to block posts with keywords that you set.

4.  Take time away!

Social media is incredibly overwhelming. Before, humans never had this kind of access to such abundant content and information. Check your screen time, set boundaries with yourself, and do your best to minimize the time you spend scrolling. Perhaps block certain social media apps in the mornings and evenings and set a specific amount of time you may use these apps each day. I promise, your mental health will thank you!

Ella Wisdom

Grade 12

Bentonville High School

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