Cyber Insecurity: The harmful impact of 'vanity apps' on child self esteem

US study shows social media presents dangers to young women's health and wellbeing 

In this blog we research the Top 5 'vanity apps' parents need to be aware are feeding these dynamics and provide some background on the drivers of social media validation.

"Instagram is just kids sharing pics. It's harmless fun."

At Family Zone we hear this all the time. But recent research into the development of our children's identity and the impact of social media suggests an alternative view. Our team of Cyber Experts constantly review what apps are age appropriate for children, and have highlighted vanity apps as a growing concern.

During childhood we develop our identity, we will constantly compare ourselves to others and when that comparison is not favourable we can feel worthless. But the most important process of identity development takes place during our pre-teen and adolescence years. 

And it’s during this critical period in identity development that today’s parents are handing their kids PCs and mobile devices.

Pre-teens who feel insecure about looks or body shape can withdraw into the online world to compare, invalidate or validate their views; where they find the Kardashians, the Jenners, and a myriad of insta-celebrities all looking fabulous.

“Celebrities using social apps are seeking viewership. The more views, the more revenue they can earn or profile they can attain as a 'brand'. This preys on the most easily influenced, sadly that is our kids. Immature, digital natives developing their own sense of self are a ripe target for manufactured image and coolness," says Tim Levy, founder of Family Zone Cyber Safety.

"Ask child psychologists and school counsellors and they’ll share harrowing anecdotes and insights into the developing narcissism of our teens."

Research out of the USA suggests that ideal looks typically depicted on social media are only possessed naturally by 5% of females.

"The more time girls spent on social media, the more they suffered conditions of bulimia, anorexia, physical dissatisfaction, negative physical self-image, negative approach to eating and increased urge to be on a weight-loss diet".

When social media influences children and adolescents to experience a high level of body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem, they typically seek social validation to help boost their negative body image. So the experience of growing up today has become: normal kids, comparing themselves to 5% of the population, feeling they don’t match the ideal, and then seeking social validation - online.

They seek likes. They post pics, risque’ snaps, a plethora of selfies - and give an illusion their lives are also fabulous. Their self worth becomes measured by the number of likes they achieve, compared to their friends (or 'frenemies').  

In the past couple of years there has been an explosion in so-called 'Vanity Apps' 

Photo editing apps which allow users to minimise their physical imperfections and present ‘perfected’ versions of themselves. Acne gone. Scars erased. Breasts enlarged. Shoulders widened etc.

With a following of 57 million people, Khloe Kardashian has openly admitted to using popular photo-editing app FaceTune, saying "it’s life changing, it’s the only way to live". But the message that is really being learnt by tweens and teens is that in their natural state they are not ‘good enough’.

The apps used to boost self-esteem inherently place a mirror to our kids' imperfections and insecurities. 

Child psychologist Jordan Foster of ySafe Solutions, one of Family Zone's Cyber Experts, writes  “At the intersection of social media and body image, our kids are most vulnerable. In this digital world children and teenagers are engrossed in, their self-esteem hangs in the balance. The relentless presentation of ‘perfect’ bodies on platforms like Instagram, paired with a pre-teens need for social validation, creates a perfect storm for negative body image and low self-esteem.”

“More and more often, pre-teens are coming to counselling, presenting their Instagram accounts and asking the same question: ‘Why don’t I look like that?’."

“What follows then is a determined effort to look like ‘that’, by using photo-editing tools that erase blemishes and edit you down a dress size, or apps that automatically add perfect makeup to your face. Pre-teens and teenagers are learning that editing their photos is what makes them good enough, not their personality or hearts.”

It is no longer unusual for pre-teens to have multiple Instagram accounts and be swapping nudes or sexting pics. App developers are even cashing in on the pursuit of perfection, with many photo editing features requiring teens to make in-app purchases. Social media is a vulnerability-seeking missile targeted at our kids’ insecurities:

  • 59% of children join a social networking site before the age of 10

  • Amongst teens, a photo is only as good as the number of likes it gets, and that number can determine social status 

  • 71% of teens use more than one social media site

  • 24% of teens go online almost constantly

  • In 2014 more than 160,000 teens aged 13-19 in the US had cosmetic procedures

  • 81% of girls aged 15-19 believe pressure to share explicit pictures is now commonplace


    Tips for parents

  1. Don’t give your kids access to social media before they are 13

  2. Limit their use of social media to a couple of hours per day 

  3. Block their access to social media apps with known risk issues (eg Kik,, Yellow)

  4. Regularly monitor their social media activity - 'friending' them is not enough as they can have hidden accounts

  5. Communicate. Talk to them about who they are and who they are being online

Top 5 Vanity Apps for parents to be aware of

1. FaceTune 

FaceTune aims to give users the professional level of photo editing software. After a quick tutorial, it allows you to edit photos and remove blemishes, whiten teeth, perfect skin tone along with change the exposure, vibrancy and filters of selfies. This app it is the most popular and sophisticated paid photo editing app.

2. YouCam Perfect

Allows you to edit photos extensively. This includes not only changing facial structures and adding makeup, but also edits body shape and height. Within the app you can log into Facebook and access external sites to follow users on social media such as Instagram.

3. Selfie Editor

Allows you to edit selfies and remove blemishes, whiten teeth, perfect skin tone along with change the exposure, vibrancy and filters of selfies. To upgrade the app and change settings such as cropping, watermarks and colours requires in-app purchases. Although the app itself is free, advertising within the app pushes paid services.

4. Beauty Plus

Edit facial features like dark eye circles, acne and brighten skin tone. This can be done automatically or manually. Apply filters and themes from to camera photos which can then be shared onto social media. 

5. Visage Makeup Editor

Auto-detects faces to whiten teeth, remove blemishes and brighten skin. After your face has been retouched, you can add a filter to change the overall colour of the picture or add lighting. Once you are finished, you can upload the picture to social media such as Facebook or Instagram. To control the size of the picture, you need to upgrade to Pro which requires payment. 

For parents feeling overwhelmed keeping ahead of ever changing apps, Family Zone is here to help. Our parental controls let you centrally manage social media and app access via age appropriate Cyber Expert settings, and can even block camera access on their devices if you're worred what images they are sharing. Try Family Zone for free for one month, or subscribe to our monthly cyber safety update email (see above right) to keep informed about the latest apps and risks.

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Topics: Parental Controls, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, teen safety, snapchat, vanity apps

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