This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Parenting Teens magazine. To learn more about this publication, please visit www.lifeway.com/parentingteens.
Back in the prehistoric days before social media, companies depended on high-profile celebrities to represent them. A movie star in a commercial. A pro athlete in a magazine. The end game was to show the masses that they could be just like the famous person if they only bought their product. Today, this strategy continues. But there’s a new tactic being put to work—and your teenager may very well already be aware of it.
Marketers are always looking for ways to tap into a certain audience. One of the ways they do this is by using the people who already have access to their target audience. I know a young man whose Instagram account has such a large following that he is given free cruises, gear, and other products in return for posting pictures of himself on a cruise or wearing the gear. He’s an influencer. And his feed is almost entirely pictures of himself looking very much like a professional model.
Whether your teen realizes it or not, people they follow on social media may be considered influencers. Telling signs are large numbers of followers and posts that seem highly filtered, polished, and curated. These accounts also make extensive use of hashtags to get their posts in front of a wider audience. Their end goal is to gain a large following so they can then get paid to represent brands on their Instagram feed.
I’m not going to tell you Instagram influencers are all bad. But as a Christian, I have major reservations about them. Our identity should be centered in who we are as children of God. As a parent, I want my daughter to be confident in who she is in Christ and not feel like she has to present herself in any particular way on social media. And I definitely don’t want to encourage a kind of social media usage that is all about self, rather than what that self is learning and experiencing. The kind of Instagram user who gives you a glimpse into her life is far better than the Instagram user who only shows you herself.
It’s important that our teenagers are influenced by the right things. Here are some questions you could ask your teenager about who they are following on Instagram:
Are the people you follow helping you to love God and others more than yourself?
Are the people you follow causing you to feel envious of their lifestyle, clothes, or talents?
Do you have a desire to gain a large Instagram following? If yes, then for what purpose?
Find some time soon and talk through it with your teenager. Help them understand that social media is another avenue in which we can either glorify God or glorify ourselves.
Julie Masson is a digital marketing strategist, occasional blogger, and social media geek. She lives in Kansas City with her counselor husband and three tech-savvy children. You can find her at juliermasson.com and on Twitter at @ juliermasson.