Rediscovering My Daughter Through Instagram

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Social media has been blamed for ruining our democracy, shortening our children’s attention spans and undermining the fabric of society. But through it, I was able to be with Paulina out in the world again, to see what she sees, to virtually stand beside her and witness the people and places she moves through, in nearly real time. Not in a parent-policing role, but in a wonderful-world sort of way.

There were gorgeous landscapes from Orient on Long Island, where we’ve spent part of every August her entire life, lovingly captured with the title “My Happy Place.” Tender close-ups of Dean. A picture of her best friend bandaged in a hospital bed after a seizure last year. “I love you,” Paulina wrote under it. And photos of a trip we took upstate last winter, blue blue windows looking out onto the evening’s snowy landscape. It was the same view I had had, but perfectly archived for eternity.

Then there was the photo she posted of herself as a little girl among autumn leaves, wearing a checkered skirt, pink leotard and green high-tops.

“Wish I was still a little kid,” the caption read.

So I wasn’t the only one.

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Teens & Digital Self-Harm

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…there’s also a relatively new form of online bullying that’s beginning to flourish among teens called ‘digital self-harm.’ Digital self-harm is the act of secretly posting hurtful or bullying comments about yourself online. The reasons why teens engage in such behaviors are complicated but simply stated, digital self-harm gives teens an outlet for all the insecurities and self-loathing emotions they have been keeping in their heads.

In a way, it is a safety valve for teen emotions and insecurities. When teens use an alias to self-bullying on social media, they are using it as a way to reconcile their internal thoughts with the external perceptions of what others think of them. Digital self-harm, a form of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), is a way for teens to safely garner attention and receive messages of validation and emotional support from friends (Klonsky, et al., 2014).

Teens Are Being Bullied ‘Constantly’ on Instagram

A woman stares at her phone in bed.

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Because bullying on your main feed is seen by many as aggressive and uncool, many teens create hate pages: separate Instagram accounts, purpose-built and solely dedicated to trashing one person, created by teens alone or in a group. They’ll post bad photos of their target, expose her secrets, post screenshots of texts from people saying mean things about her, and any other terrible stuff they can find.

Sometimes teens, many of whom run several Instagram accounts, will take an old page with a high amount of followers and transform it into a hate page to turn it against someone they don’t like. “One girl took a former meme page that was over 15,000 followers, took screencaps from my Story, and Photoshopped my nose bigger and posted it, tagging me being like, ‘Hey guys, this is my new account,’” Annie said. “I had to send a formal cease and desist. I went to one of those lawyer websites and just filled it out. Then she did the same thing to my friend.”

 

The Teens Who Rack Up Thousands of Followers by Posting the Same Photo Every Day

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Every day for more than a year, Joey, a 15-year-old high-school student, has logged on to Instagram and posted the exact same photo of Otis, a cartoon cow from the children’s TV show Back at the Barnyard, to an account that now has almost 30,000 followers.

“For the first couple weeks, the account was only followed by my friends mostly, and a few other people I didn’t know,” said Joey, who, like all the teenagers quoted in this story, asked to be referred to by his first name only. “Over time, it just started to grow crazy amounts of followers, so I started to get committed and continue to run it.”

“Same photo every day” accounts are a subgenre of interest-based “daily” accounts, dedicated to posting one thing within a set theme every day. But over the past year, they’ve become more popular. “It’s just trendy now,” said Lily, a 19-year-old who posts the same photo of her friend every day.

France Bans Smartphones in Schools Through 9th Grade. Will It Help Students?

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The eighth-grade girls already know what to expect from France’s new smartphone ban in all primary and middle schools because their school voluntarily instituted one last year.

“Annoying,” was the assessment of Zoélinh Masson, 12, as her friend Grace Blahourou, 13, agreed.

Still, they said that with no smartphones, students did talk to one another more.

France’s education ministry hopes that its smartphone ban, which took effect at the beginning of September and applies to students from first through ninth grades, will get schoolchildren to pay more attention in class and interact more, and several studies suggest such correlations.

The Big Myth About Teenage Anxiety

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So what’s behind the idea that teenagers are increasingly worried and nervous? One possibility is that these stories are the leading edge of a wave of anxiety disorders that has yet to be captured in epidemiological surveys. Or maybe anxiety rates have risen, but only in the select demographic groups — the privileged ones — that receive a lot of media attention.

But it’s more likely that the epidemic is simply a myth. The more interesting question is why it has been so widely accepted as fact.

One reason, I believe, is that parents have bought into the idea that digital technology — smartphones, video games and the like — are neurobiologically and psychologically toxic. If you believe this, it seems intuitive that the generations growing up with these ubiquitous technologies are destined to suffer from psychological problems. But this dubious notion comes from a handful of studies with serious limitations.

 

Should You Track Your Teen’s Location?

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Location tracking can, without question, damage the connection between parent and teenager. Research shows that adolescents who believe their parents have invaded their privacy go on to have higher levels of conflict at home. And teenagers who resent being trailed digitally sometimes disable location features, take pains to “spoof” their GPS, or leave their phones at friends’ houses to throw parents off their scent.

As a psychologist, I also worry that location tracking can confuse the question of who is mainly responsible for the safety of the roaming adolescent — the parent or the teenager? If parents decide against using location tracking, I encourage them to talk with their teenager about why.