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What your kids would like to know about Instagram


This is the edition of the newsletter from September 8th to 3rd about school, children and parenting. Do you like what you read? Sign up to get it in your inbox every Monday.

Between the whimpering end of the California recall and the polarizing “Tax the Rich” dress by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you may have missed the Wall Street Journal’s recent in-depth look at Facebook and its explosive new revelations about the impact of Instagram on teenagers. (The history of the journal is behind a paywall, but you can check out Brian Lehrer’s helpful section on it here.)


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The thesis isn’t new: we know that social media has harmed teenage girls since I was a teenage girl on social media, around the Bronze Age. Specific links to anxiety, depression, and body dissatisfaction were well established in the Tumblr and MySpace era.

The research makes it clear that Instagram is uniquely toxic to this population group. In addition, parent company Facebook knew little and did little for more than a year after its own internal research uncovered problems with the app.

For parents, this news couldn’t come at a more troubling time. As my colleagues at The Times have reported, during the pandemic, social platforms became an indispensable interpersonal connection for many teenagers as they became deeply isolated from school closings and bans.

“Social media was a big outlet for me because I was so isolated at home,” said Sarah Dowiri, a Duarte High School graduate. “It was difficult to distinguish” [Instagram] to help me stop feeling isolated instead of feeling like an outcast in my own skin. “

But for most teenagers, quitting isn’t realistic. More than 40% of Instagram users are 22 years or younger, making it an inevitable stop for the younger generation. And although consumption among adults has been stable for years, consumption among adolescents seems to have increased significantly since 2019.

“I didn’t go to Instagram on purpose and said I would compare myself to everyone on my feed,” the teenager explained. “But suddenly I looked in the mirror and said my eyebrows were very thick or that I was picking on those parts of my ethnicity that are naturally there. I would close the app with this disgusting feeling, like a residue on me. “

These comparisons can be particularly harmful to young women of color, experts warn.

“It’s a question of whose bodies get more traffic and engagement,” said Gloria Lucas, founder of Nalgona Positivity Pride, an Instagram account devoted to raising awareness of eating disorders in BIPOC communities. “For young people it is very confusing to see that the same traits are shamed but celebrated by influencers” – especially when white influencer trends like plump lips, fox eye liners and even “slim, thick” or “thick fit” – Take over figures that effectively mimic non-white features.

Influencers are also proficient in image-based apps such as YouTube and TikTok. However, experts say that Instagram’s intense body focus encourages more direct and sustainable comparisons, while the algorithm effectively ensures that only specific bodies are shown in a specific user’s feed.

“Every time I post a photo of a tall person or a super fat person, [especially] a super fat black guy, my engagement drops, I lose followers, we get fewer likes, ”said Lucas.

While TikTok is ruled by dancers and comedians, “fitness models” dominate the most popular Instagram accounts – often promoting versions of “wellness” associated with eating disorders among young users.

(In my day, many teenagers learned disorderly eating habits from caricaturally obvious Tumblr “thinspo” and “pro-ana” LiveJournal groups – but the same behaviors are more subtle on Instagram, where kids often find them while following healthy coping mechanisms a. seek time of unprecedented stress.)

“If it has ‘wellness’ in it, it is most likely influenced by diet or purity,” said Lucas. “It’s another unrealistic standard of beauty, because health is not presented as a collective issue, but as an individual choice.”

Because eating disorders are much more closely related to trauma, genetics, and untreated mental illness than our ever-changing standards of beauty, children right now can also be uniquely vulnerable to these messages.

“I didn’t know the harmful effects it had on me and my co-workers until it happened to me,” Dowiri said, remembering seeing Kendall Jenner – the app’s tenth most popular user – post an extremely low-calorie and incredibly aesthetic food diary under the popular hashtag “whatieatinaday”.

“She eats strawberries and blueberries for breakfast, and for lunch she decides not to eat,” she said. “I thought if Kendall Jenner can skip lunch, so can I.”

Facebook identified ways to mitigate such damage but was slow to implement them, the journal’s investigation showed. Many mimic those already used by young users or developed by other apps.

For example, other TikTok users have likely seen one of the platform’s “pause” videos – officially known as Screen Time Management – while mindlessly scrolling in the middle of the night. If you’re like me, you’ve never closed an app faster in your life.

“You take care of the well-being of the [user]while Insta lets you scroll forever and over and over and over, ”Dowiri said.

It is now also increasingly using a private “Finsta” account that is only accessible to friends – a setting that Facebook recently made the default for all users under the age of 18.

But parents can help too – primarily by understanding how the internet has changed since the days of the AIM creeps and MySpace stalkers.

“[Parents] Always talking about strangers on the internet as if that’s the danger, but I think the fake pictures are more dangerous, ”said Dowiri. “You stress so much, be careful who you talk to. But they should also say be careful what you are looking at. The real harm to our generation is what we shouldn’t pay attention to. “

TikTok also has its downside

Clearly, influencers aren’t limited to Instagram. Across California and across the country, school officials linked a vandalism trend on campus with a viral TikTok challenge that encouraged students to share videos of their misdeeds. The primary goal was bathrooms. My colleague Laura Newberry explains the damage and the reaction.

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Some relief on the pediatric COVID-19 front

We started the school year under such uncertainty in the midst of the surging Delta variant. But the latest data gathered during the early weeks of school in Los Angeles County shows that campus safety guidelines seem to be working. Members of our education and coronavirus team explain the downward trend in pediatric coronavirus cases. Also, the story contains some vital information about how the county is easing quarantine rules for schools.

On Monday morning, Pfizer said its COVID-19 vaccine is working for children ages 5 to 11 and that it will soon apply for US approval for that age group, a major step on the road to youth vaccination.

What two studies say about children and babies

Forget the weekly homework help and instead opt for what educational researchers call “high-dose” tutoring. Studies show that intensive daily tutoring is one of the most effective ways to help school-stricken children catch up and has brought great performance gains to students. The Hechinger report

A new study by researchers at five universities found that babies born during the pandemic may have lower IQ scores than those born before it. Less parental stimulation combined with a lack of commitment to other children could be partly responsible, researchers speculated. EdSource

A little advice for parents

A therapist (and mother) from San Diego wrote a book called “The Not-So-Friendly Friend” about how you can help your child navigate the world of young friendship. San Diego Union Grandstand

And if you’re brave, here’s some advice on what to get your teenage daughter dressed in school. (Bottom line: “Good luck.”) Washington Post

I want to hear from you.

Do you have any feedback? Ideas? Ask? Tips for stories? Email me. And stay in touch on Twitter.


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