Emma Lembke, a seventh-grader, was the last person in her Birmingham, Alabama friend group to use social media. She says that she became addicted to the apps after she started, spending five hours per day on them, mostly Instagram.
“At an important developmental period in my life as a young female, as a young kid, in middle school, [I got] wound up in this world of likes, comments, very deeply quantifiable measures of my value, addictive algorithms, and the endless scroll,” she says.
When Lembke reached what she calls a “breaking point” in ninth grade, she began looking into the effects of social media. She came across research articles. statistics, a now widely shared TEDx TalkAll of this suggested to her that social media use was a major factor in her anxiety, body image problems, and isolation.
Lembke was a Washington University freshman and 19-year-old Lembke started an organization called Log OffThe following resources are available: reducing screen timeAdvice for Better digital well-being, curriculum for schoolsLembke offers tips and tricks for navigating social media. Teens can also submit their personal stories to help break the stigma of admitting that social media is making them miserable. Since then, the group has grown to include 60 digital youth advocates from 16 countries.
“I Was unaware of the heavy editing and toxicity of the body standards present on the apps, but what I was aware of was how I was not meeting that preset standard,” starts one anonymous story published on the organization’s website. “I wish someone would have told me to never get on the apps as a young, highly insecure 7th grader. It has taken years of self discipline and reflection to get to a place where I can look in the mirror and smile.”
Log Off is part of a growing Generation Z movement pushing back against companies like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, and the way they control teens’ social lives. Those born between 1995 and 2010 are often portrayed as “digital natives” who are gleefully glued to their phones. They, like all age groups, are suffering from the mental health effects of spending so much time in social media worlds that encourage social comparison and value the quantitative, the optimizeable, and the performative more than the authentic. Forty-two percent of Gen Z-ers now say they’re “addicted” to social media and couldn’t quit if they tried, and more than half believe life was better before social media, according to polling byThe Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.
“Teens face a choice: Either risk your social circle or risk your mental health,” Lembke says.
The Social Media Generation
Gen Z had no meaningful choice in the matter of whether to use social networking sites, unlike older adults. At most American schools, it is considered to be a socially excluded minority to not be on Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok. Before the pandemic, 95% percent of American teens had a smartphone or access to one. according to Pew Research Center75% of respondents had at least one active profile on social media. according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
However, researchIt is becoming more clear that teens who use social media and smartphones to communicate with their anxiety, depression, self harming behaviors, sleep deprivation, and self-harming behaviors are often connected.
2017 was the year Jean Twenge, a psychologist, published an article in The AtlanticIncreased smartphone use is linked to a 56% increase in suicide rates among Americans aged 10 and older–24 between 2007-2017, her findings were widely discredited.
“The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health,” she wrote.
Recent developments have shown that our understanding of social networks has changed significantly since 2017. revelations by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that the company’s own research found that teen girls’ eating disorders and body image issues got worse on Instagram. This was due to the growing awareness of the harmful effects of excessive social media use, which was due to the forced isolation caused by the pandemic. The release of The Social DilemmaNetflix September 2020,This documentary features former employees from Facebook, Google, Twitter and reveals the addictive, manipulative design of these apps. It furthers this cause.
A nonprofit led by The Social Dilemma protagonist Tristan Harris called the Center for Humane Technology—perhaps the organization that has done the most to raise awareness of and put pressure on Big Tech—has begun heavily supporting the work of young activists.
This includes LookUpThe nonprofit funds young people to raise digital wellness awareness and develop more inclusive tech. Susan Reynolds, a former English teacher at Concord’s private boy school, Massachusetts, founded the nonprofit in 2019. She started researching the impact of tech after becoming addicted to AOL Instant Messenger in late 1990s. She began meeting with college students in the 2010s to discuss research about the associations between smartphone usage and sleep disruption.
“What was clear to me was that [teens] needed data, but they didn’t need me telling them what to do,” Reynolds says.
LookUp has grown in the last year with new chapters in India, the United Kingdom, and Africa. The organization hosted its October event a youth summitIt attracted more than 1,200 people and featured more 175 youth speakers. KIDS Act. If passed, this legislation would ban social media’s addictive features, such as autoplay, push alerts, and follower counts, for users under 16.
Ritom Gupta (22), director of community engagement LookUp IndiaHe believes it is important to raise awareness for his peers. “People in this country are still getting addicted to tech. It’s still in its infancy, not like the U.S., where everyone’s aware.”
The group makes recommendations to its audience, such as not using one’s phone first thing in the morning, turning off notifications, and practicing meditation to use social media more mindfully.
“The irony on social media is that while you’re trying to capture the moment, you’re missing out on that moment to show people who are not there in that moment,” says LookUp India Chair Rijul Arora, 25.
One app LookUp has funded is called Mynd, allows users to rate their moods while on social media, selecting choices like “happy,” “angry,” or “anxious,” and then view trends as well as set goals for healthier social media use. Creator Madi McCullough, 23, a recent college graduate and freelance social media coordinator, was inspired by health apps that “use persuasive technology for good,” such as encouraging people to run more, rather than promoting addictive use.
Less is more with better tech
Reynolds said that although LookUp’s initial focus was on funding tech projects like Mynd in the beginning, one of its most significant initiatives is to go tech-free. NoSo NovemberMaddie Freeman (20 years old University of Colorado Boulder student) created ‘Log Off or Delete All Social Media Apps for November’. This is a way for individuals and high schools to log out of social media and then spend their time doing other things. activitiesYoga, cooking, and calling your friends are all examples of these activities. The idea is to make social media more socially inclusive than socially isolated by making it a group experience. (Freeman recently shot a promoFor the challenge with The Social DilemmaDirector Jeff Orlowski
Like other Gen Z-ers, Freeman appreciates that social media allows her to connect so easily with people in different time zones and doesn’t think it is the sole cause of mental health issues, but she believes it contributes heavily. 12 of her high school classmates, including several close friends, took their own lives after they became addicted to social media.
During the first NoSo November challenge last year, participants noticed a change right away, she says: “Within days of being in that challenge, everyone was like, ‘I do not miss these apps at all. I don’t want to re-download them.’ It was a weight lifted off of all of our shoulders.”
While in the near-term, young activists have focused on raising awareness of social media’s impact and strategies to cut down on their use of it, they don’t talk about it as a matter of personal responsibility and self-control the way older adults often do. Instead, they view it a systemic issue that needs regulation, such as The KIDS Act. an online safety billThis could have an impact on the way the rest of the world deals with tech.
At the same time, teens and young adults don’t believe social media is going away. The focus, they say, must be on designing more authentic and less toxic ways of connecting, and teaching media literacy — and they are ready to help lead the way.
“Being in Gen Z, social media was baked into the DNA of my childhood, and I think that’s going to be the same with every generation that comes after,” Lembke says. “As a society, we can force social media companies to prioritize their users and youth mental health, and to exist in healthier ways. I hope legislators will open up and listen to us, because there’s much to be said from our side.”