The frequent use of filters and image editing apps on social media can distort kids’ and teens’ perceptions of what a so-called ideal body should look like. Aspiring to achieve an unrealistic body type can affect how they feel about themselves. Parents have expressed growing concern about the effect of filters and editing apps on kids’ body image.

According to a new survey from the On Our Sleeves Movement for Children’s Mental Health, a part of Nationwide Children's Hospital, almost 70 percent of parents worried that filters and editing apps negatively affect kids’ body image. And 65 percent thought social media trends relevant to appearance, such as on diet and exercise, also negatively affect body image. About 2,000 adults responded to the online survey, of whom 711 were parents of children 18 years old or younger.

Having a negative body image — feeling your body does not look as good as others’ — lowers kids’ confidence and self-esteem. This can lead to anxiety, low mood or depression, Erin McTiernan, a spokesperson for On Our Sleeves, told TheDoctor. It can also cause disordered eating and exercise habits in some, or eating disorders. “Concerns about body image have the potential to be something much more serious down the road,” she said.

Praise kids for what they do instead of how they look.

So what can parents do to counteract the idealized images presented in the media? The first thing is to get curious about what kids are viewing on social media, said McTiernan, a child psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Perhaps start by asking who they follow on social media and what kinds of content they view.

Parents should also be aware of what their kids are posting online. Ask questions: how do you feel when you post certain types of pictures and videos, what kinds of reactions do they get, and how do you feel about those reactions and comments?

Once parents are more comfortable discussing social media with their kids, they can talk about filters or editing apps. Point out which images and videos are realistic and which are not. Apps use algorithms to learn what users are viewing and feed them more of that type of content, she explained. Let kids know that hitting the “Not interested” or “Unfollow” button will stop potentially harmful content from showing up in their feeds.

Parents' own attitudes also affect how kids see themselves. To help their kids be more realistic about the images they see online relative to their own bodies, parents need to be sure they are modeling the kind of body acceptance they want for their children and teens. Everyone occasionally makes comments like, “I don’t look good in this bathing suit!” or, “I really need to hit the gym,” but treating weight concerns with a light touch can help kids think about their own bodies without shame.

It also helps to emphasize that the most important thing is keeping your body healthy and appreciating what it can do rather than what it looks like, McTiernan advises. Say something like, “Great. My phone says I walked over 10,000 steps today!”

There’s another way to inoculate children and teens against the damaging effects of idealized internet images: Praise kids for what they do instead of how they look. McTiernan recommends parents make a point of calling attention to kids’ positive characteristics — such as being a hard worker, a good friend, or being caring, kind or generous. “By recognizing other traits that have nothing to do with physical appearance, parents highlight them for their kids.”