THE BLOG
01/27/2015 04:56 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2015

Inside the Mind of a Teen's Instagram Post

Could the popular application Instagram be contributing to young girl's anxiety? It does this and so much more. When this photo-sharing app first hit the scene, I thought of it as a personal, virtual scrapbook, and I fell in love. Taking and saving photos of my favorite memories, people and places is a favorite pastime of mine. Before Instagram, these photos hung on my wall, sat on my bedside table, were there for me to look at and reflect upon these cherished moments. Now, with the help of Instagram, I can share my photos with the world.

At first, it was fun, but quickly I found myself addicted to an application that tweens and teens would soon use to define their self worth. Everything had changed. Now, I had a number under each photo: the number of "likes" a particular picture receives. At first, I didn't think much about it until I realized that the popular girl in high school got 150 likes on her selfie and I got 16. That's when I realized that this app is more than just a virtual scrapbook. It is a way to numerically compare ourselves to our peers. Don't get me wrong, I love Instagram. Luckily, I am a pretty confident girl and I understand that it's not about how many people like your photo, but the quality of friends who like your photo.

What goes on inside the mind of a tween girl as she goes through the motions of an Instagram post? I'm about to take you on an Instagram Ride. Today, Generation Z's self-worth is determined by numbers. How many followers do you have? How many people liked your latest picture? How many of your friends posted a PicStitch for your birthday? Before you know it, you can't even remember how you feel about you, and a simple post on IG can raise a young girl's anxiety more than you realize. Are you ready for the ride?

Girls begin with a photo they like, but feel it needs to be edited to be perfect.The photo might have been edited in a different photo editing application and then inserted into an Instagram post. Now, if she feels this photo doesn't already look good enough, she might add a filter to further enhance her image, even though she originally felt good about it. I know this doesn't make sense, but there is not often a great deal of practical thinking when it comes to the posts of a tween. Filters can distort, highlight and oftentimes completely change the look of a photo.

The next choice is text. Girls tend to wear their emotions on their Instagram photos and share their spur-of-the-moment thoughts with the world. Vague text can be about a recent breakup, a BFF that caused drama, or simply a wishful thought she expects others to share.

Then comes the hashtag decisions. The choices are endless, and these, too, depict an underlying thought process, a type of secret code that tween girls seem to understand. I am sure you are exhausted by now, but we just got to the good part. The "share" button has been tapped, and now our followers get to view our creation.

Here's where more anxiety sets in: How many likes will I get? I hope the pic REALLY looks okay. O.M.G. it's been two minutes, and no one has liked my post. Should I take it down? Do I look that bad? Why won't anyone like my post?

Girls send themselves into a frenzy as they check their smart phones more often than they will admit, and they stress over what everyone else thinks. Instagram provides validation. The likes and comments are coveted, and as a result, young girls are forgetting that self worth comes from our actions, morals and values... not a single post.

I asked a number of young teen girls to share their experiences with Instagram. The next time you ask yourself: "Why is my daughter quiet today? Why is my daughter obsessed with checking her phone? Why is my daughter trying to be something she's not?" The answer might be as simple as the outcome of a social media post. Bottom line, girls just want to be accepted by their peers. The tricky part is determining what "accepted" truly means, and how girls handle these meaningless numbers they turn to for validation.

Girl #1:

I usually think about what my followers are going to like or dislike about my post. Usually, my friends would give good comments or someone else would say a nice comment, so it usually makes me feel very happy to get good comments. Honestly, I don't feel insecure about social media. My posts usually go around my sports, drawings or pictures I happen to like, including selfies. I know if the picture is a little off if I have to second guess myself to post it. Sometimes, when I'm not sure, even if it's a picture that is very acceptable, I ask my friends and they give their honest opinion if I should post it or not, and it helps me a lot with my decisions.

I find it interesting that she says she is not insecure about Instagram, yet she sends her pictures to her friends before posting as a sort of "approval." I used to do this, so I can assume she is doing this for the same reasons I did. If I send my latest selfie to my BFF and ask her if I should post it, she says yes and I hit the magical "post" button -- then suddenly the responsibility is off my shoulders. If it doesn't get as many "likes" as I had hoped, I can shrug my shoulders and say: "It was my friend's fault! She told me to post it!" This is a way of hiding the truth... We are insecure about what we post. Will it be "good enough" for my peers?

Girl #2:

I usually think about who's going to see my post and what people will think about the post. One of my biggest insecurities is selfies. Usually, if I feel confident about how I look, I might post a selfie. Of course, your friends comment that you look so pretty or something like that and it makes you feel good about yourself. Some days, I wouldn't want anyone taking a picture of me. Just like all girls, you don't want boys and girls thinking that you are ugly. I also hate posting pictures of my friends and I on Instagram, if it's a big group. I'm always afraid that someone will get their feelings hurt. Of course, you never want to leave anyone out, but it almost always happens.

At the same time, you want to post something because you had fun and you don't want to hide that. I personally have gone on to Instagram and have seen that a bunch of people from my class went out together and I wasn't invited. It makes you feel bad about yourself when a bunch of your friends went out together, but didn't invite you. It makes you wonder what you're doing wrong. I never want anyone to feel that way because of something I posted.

This girl is seriously giving me flash backs to high school, and not in a good way. I felt as though I was always the one who got left out. Why did I feel this way? Instagram, of course! It's so easy to see a group of your friends together and think: "Great, they didn't want me there." Before social media, we could go out together, and no one would feel left out! Instagram can be a really fun, great thing, and getting likes on your selfies does boost your self-confidence. However, it's amazing how seeing everyone else having fun while your lying in bed on a Friday night, can make you feel so insignificant.

Girl #3:

I usually think about what will make the picture look best and will people like the picture that I'm posting. Sometimes I think about the layout of my dash and which position of the photo would look best. Most of the things I usually think about are cosmetic and have to do with which filter looks best. I do not feel any insecurities about posting on Instagram. I mean of course I'm going to try and pick the most appealing picture to post, but once it's on the site then I'm fine with it. I wouldn't really consider myself an insecure person and I'm comfortable with myself, so I have no problem posting pictures that my followers can see. Plus my account is on private, so most of the people viewing the photos, I know really well.

This girl really "gets" the idea of social media. Here's the thing: Your Instagram is your Instagram. Choose your filters and your pictures because you like them, and not for others approval. We all want to be liked, so we are not going to post a selfie when we first wake up and have drool on our face. We are going to post pictures we like, and hope that others feel the same way.

Social media is a powerful tool that is expanding at an alarming rate. Parents are having trouble keeping up with the different types of applications that youths are leaning on to boost their self-esteem and gain popularity. Adults are often so immersed in their own cyber world that they tend to neglect making a conscious effort to be informed of the applications their children are accessing.

Maybe the reason your daughter is crying herself to sleep is as simple as no one liked the selfie she posted. Or maybe her friends took cute pictures at the mall, while she was sitting at home watching Netflix. Then again, she may be beaming because her selfie got a lot of likes, and her friends left her sweet comments. Learning that the numbers do not define you can be challenging when popularity is at stake.

Most parents don't use Instagram and therefore have no concept of the anxiety that girls face when using this popular application. It's a lot like a roller coaster ride. It's fast and furious, and it can send girls up as fast as it can take their breath away on the next turn down. They can't wait to ride again.

Confidence, education and safety matter. Take the time to get familiar with your daughter's choice of social media as she goes on the ride of her life. #ItsNotAboutTheLikes