Care and Feeding

My Daughter’s Obsession With Instagram Is Ruining Both Our Lives

There’s no keeping her off of it.

A girl holds a phone. The Instagram logo appears behind her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Poike/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 16-year-old daughter developed an eating and exercise disorder a few years ago, and despite enduring attempts to cure it with a variety of approaches, it still rages on. And I mean rages on. My 16-year-old is almost always angry when in the company of her immediate family, and her temper flares into a forest fire with very little provocation. The eating disorder has transformed her into a reclusive, self-obsessed, insecure, and selfish person. (Or maybe, it has instead revealed these characteristics).

A few weeks ago, I noticed on her Instagram account that she had posted a claim to a feat that she did not achieve. It was a lie, intended to impress her peers. To me, this was evidence of Instagram’s corrosive influence on her psyche, which is frequently plagued by comparisons to others; easily coaxed into believing she should be exercising when she is finally resting; and making her feel weak for eating a bun with her Tofurkey dog. If you tap on the search icon in her Instagram page, a horror reel of “Cheat Week,” and “Sculpted Abs,” and “What I ate in a week” pops up.

Due to her public lie, I told her very clearly that the next time she got on Instagram, I would be taking her phone away from her until her account is completely and forever deleted. Instagram doesn’t actually delete your account until 30 days after you’ve deactivated it. If you log into it on day 29, the 30-day deactivation period starts over. It’s predatory.

For the next week, she logged into Instagram, but I didn’t catch her. So I reminded her of the consequence: If you get on Instagram, I am taking your phone away for 30 days.

A week ago, she had the audacity to log onto Instagram again right in front of me. When I asked her if she was on Instagram, she lied, of course. But it didn’t matter. I saw it on her screen. So I took the phone away from her. She has defied me by taking her phone when I am not constantly surveilling it; and, frankly, just grinding away at my resolve until I just say, I don’t care.

When I step away from the heat of the moment, though, I feel my duty is to follow through on the consequence I carefully and clearly articulated; that acquiescing to her immediate demands is unhealthy for her mental state and our relationship. Is this old school parenting? Am I way off base here?

—Withering Resolve

Dear Withering,

Before we dive into your daughter’s phone, I’m more concerned about her eating disorder. You mentioned that you’ve tried a variety of approaches to help her, but for whatever reason, nothing seems to be working, correct? Now is the time to pull out all of the stops. She should be meeting with a mental health professional on a weekly basis for starters. Preferably, this is a family therapist who can also speak with you and other family members about how to best support your daughter through her recovery. You also say that she has become reclusive—you should try to find activities your family can do to ensure you continue to spend time together. Your daughter has been struggling with her mental health for a long time now, and she’ll need the total support of your family to get better.

As for the phone, I actually think you should allow your daughter to keep it. Along with spending time with family, it’s important she doesn’t isolate herself from her friends and, for better or worse, a lot of teenage socializing is done on phones. I agree with you though that Instagram is negatively impacting her mental health. Rather than taking away her whole device, I would suggest setting up parental controls, which will allow you to block the downloads of certain apps.

Take a deep breath, prepare for the horrific storm you’ll encounter when you set your boundaries, and do not waver one bit, no matter how bad it gets. With the proper mental health counseling and unconditional love from you, I believe she will be OK in due time.