Why Instagram can be good for your selfie-obsessed teen

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 Photo: Getty Images

If you're concerned about your teen's excessive use of Instagram - whether they're following their favourite celebrities, posting selfies or photographing their lunch - it turns out there might be an upside to having their eyes constantly glued to the social platform. It can make them feel closer to their friends.

That's the conclusion Eline Frison, of the Belgian University of Leuven, has drawn from her study of social media activity in Flemish adolescents.

Frison conducted a longitudinal study of 746 teenagers, questioning them about their use of social media such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Students were also questioned about depressive symptoms, loneliness and life-satisfaction. All questionnaires were repeated after six months.

Results indicated that teens who used Instagram frequently were more likely to report greater depressive symptoms six months later.

It wasn't all bad news, however. Instagram use was also related to teens feeling appreciated and loved by their friends - and this in turn was linked to lower levels of depression.

"This age group may be particularly at risk for the impact of Instagram, given the increasing popularity of Instagram in adolescence and given the increase of depressive symptoms during this stage of life," Frison said in a statement, adding that her study provides greater insight into the outcome of teens' Instagram use - its pros and its cons.

"Instagram can be both beneficial and harmful for adolescents' well-being," she said. "If using Instagram stimulates adolescents' closeness to friends, it is beneficial in the long run, but if Instagram is not capable of that stimulation, it is harmful in the long run."

While it's not the first time social media use in young people has been linked to poorer mental health, the study is the first to explore a longitudinal relationship between Instagram use and well-being in teens -  and the first to explore the role of adolescents' feelings of closeness to friends, in that relationship.

"Research already shows that mostly passive use (just scrolling) creates depressive symptoms," Frison told eos wetenschap. "Active users also post some pictures. [The] differences between active and passive use may explain why some young people experience benefits and disadvantages [of social media]."

Frison's paper will be presented at the Annual International Communication Association in San Diego, in May 2017.