Study: Instagram is worst app for teens’ mental health

DENVER -- A study of the most popular social media sites found Instagram to have the worst impact on teens and their mental health.

The study was conducted by the United Kingdom's Royal Society for Public Health. It looked at social media apps and the impact they had on people ages 16 to 24.

The study found social media use was linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety and poor sleep. Social media was also described as being more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.

Of the social media apps, the study found Instagram had the most negative impact on teens' mental health. Snapchat was ranked as second worse.

Scientists called it "compare and despair." Perfected photos posted on Instagram make teens feel their lives are lesser, their bodies are lesser or they're missing out. The study found 9 of 10 girls are unhappy with their bodies.

While scientists found social media can have a positive impact on people's lives, it only ranked YouTube as having a positive impact on teens' mental health.

The study offered suggestions for social media sites to help reduce the impact on teens.

Scientists behind the study suggest creating a pop-up warning to alert users when they've been on the site too long. Scientists also suggest creating a small icon or watermark to alert people when photos are airbrushed or filtered.

Sheryl Ziegler, a child and family therapist, said social media is bulldozing ahead, and parents and professionals are struggling to keep up.

"We aren't going to go backwards. This isn't going to go away, and we don't yet have the best practices. I think social media companies don't have best practices, parents don't have best practices, schools don't. We're all just trying to keep up and figure out what to do," said Ziegler.

She said parents play a huge role in decreasing the impact of social media on their kid's mental health.

Ziegler said parents should hold off on giving their children phones until they get older.

"The healthiest kids I know didn't get a phone until eighth grade. It's almost unheard of, it's an antiquated thought but those kids are happier," Ziegler said. "I say to parents, 'Be brave. Don't give into the fact that half the kids in the class have [phones]. You need to be that parent that says this is just dangerous, this isn't a right just because it's the digital age and it exists.'

"This would be like you handing your kids some alcohol and saying, 'Don't drink too much, just have a little bit,' when they are 10, 11, 12 years old."

Ziegler said parents should monitor for signs that their children are addicted to their phones. She said parents should limit screen time, and if kids put up a huge fight, you know you have an issue.

"It seems you are taking away their life, you have a serious problem on your hands," Ziegler said.

She suggests parents talk to their children about the serious impact of social media on their lives, even before they are introduced to a phone.

Ziegler said teens should not be allowed to keep their phones in their rooms while they sleep. She said teens will often check their phones if they wake up in the middle of the night.

The bright screen disrupts sleep patterns, and sleep plays a huge role in maintaining a health mind.