Social Media

The Talk To Have About Instagram At Home Right Now

Delaney Ruston, MD
October 12, 2021
The researcher Vicky Rideout quote from Screenagers Next Chapter

It has been an unbelievable week with Facebook and its other companies going down not once, but twice, and witnessing the former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen — the whistleblower who released key documents — testify for three hours in front of a Senate hearing. Haugen was so freaking eloquent and on point. I am so happy to have her bright mind, along with that of  Tristan Harris, both working to promote policy changes.

This week I was asked to speak on CNN about how Instagram can impact youth mental health. I was glad to voice my concern, and it has been great to see so many others speaking out. I want to encourage everyone to be vocal right now. Our voices matter. 

Let me give an example from the past.  

In 2016 FB (and Instagram) asked me to come to their headquarters and show Screenagers to their adolescent division. I spoke about negative emotions that were happening to young people related to social media and my concerns about excessive use and addiction. Our conversation was very much a back and forth, and they were open to discussing the benefits and risks of their platforms on adolescents.  

Around that same time, Facebook was talking about developing a Facebook-type product for youth younger than 13. Fortunately, there was pushback from the public, and this never came to fruition. 

Now we have learned that they have been thinking of doing the same thing for Instagram — making an Instagram version for kids younger than 13. But the public outcry worked, as they have halted efforts for now.

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Our voices matter. Helping our kids become more knowledgeable about the issues transpiring about these companies and platforms can help them become more vocal about these concerns, whether that’s now or sometime later in their lives. 

For today’s Tech Talk Tuesday, let’s talk with our kids about the leaked papers that revealed that Facebook has been internally talking about how youth can have very negative emotions on social media but find it hard to pull away. 

I know this from talking with youth about this for 10 years. And in Screenagers Next Chapter, researcher Vicky Rideout talks about her research finding of this very point. She says,

“What I worry about the most is the young people who say when I'm feeling depressed or stressed or anxious, using social media makes me feel worse, but I do it anyway. I can't stop.”

When I was interviewing UC Berkeley researcher Ron Dahl for Screenagers Next Chapter, he told me his ideas about the phenomenon that teens are more likely to revel in negative feelings than adults. The following quote is from our interview: 

“Adolescents are often doing the equivalent of putting their tongue in a toothache with their sadness . . . sometimes what they want to do is explore their feelings just like they like going to horror movies and riding roller coasters.
“It's not because they like being afraid, but they're learning to master these strong feelings.
The only way to learn how to deal with strong feelings is to have some experience with them, and some of the proclivity to experiment with strong feelings may actually be quite adaptive.  It may help us learn how to deal with those strong feelings.”
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There is a lot from above to unpack at your dinner table or in the classroom. When we see things or have interactions over social media that tilt our feelings in a negative direction, what is that like? What are our thoughts? Do we ever purposely feed the negative by continuing on the platform? I say “social media,” but I am also talking about things like Google chats or texting for youth who are not on Instagram, Discord, or other social media sites.

Let me give a personal example. When a friend texted me a sweet photo of her and her husband on vacation the other day, I was happy to get the photo, but I also had this sad thought cross my brain, “If only I had her brain wiring and could not be pulled by negative thoughts so often.” She is a friend who does not doubt things in life as much as I do. I regularly question my decisions or things in my life, whereas she is much less plagued by doubt. 

Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. See if you can start today’s discussion by sharing a recent time you had a negative feeling related to social media. And did you stay on it, or were you able to stop? 
  2. Now how would your child or students answer that same question?
  3. What does everyone think about researcher Ron Dahl’s theory?
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Social Media

The Talk To Have About Instagram At Home Right Now

Delaney Ruston, MD
October 12, 2021
The researcher Vicky Rideout quote from Screenagers Next Chapter

It has been an unbelievable week with Facebook and its other companies going down not once, but twice, and witnessing the former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen — the whistleblower who released key documents — testify for three hours in front of a Senate hearing. Haugen was so freaking eloquent and on point. I am so happy to have her bright mind, along with that of  Tristan Harris, both working to promote policy changes.

This week I was asked to speak on CNN about how Instagram can impact youth mental health. I was glad to voice my concern, and it has been great to see so many others speaking out. I want to encourage everyone to be vocal right now. Our voices matter. 

Let me give an example from the past.  

In 2016 FB (and Instagram) asked me to come to their headquarters and show Screenagers to their adolescent division. I spoke about negative emotions that were happening to young people related to social media and my concerns about excessive use and addiction. Our conversation was very much a back and forth, and they were open to discussing the benefits and risks of their platforms on adolescents.  

Around that same time, Facebook was talking about developing a Facebook-type product for youth younger than 13. Fortunately, there was pushback from the public, and this never came to fruition. 

Now we have learned that they have been thinking of doing the same thing for Instagram — making an Instagram version for kids younger than 13. But the public outcry worked, as they have halted efforts for now.

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for more like this, DR. DELANEY RUSTON'S NEW BOOK, PARENTING IN THE SCREEN AGE, IS THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE FOR TODAY’S PARENTS. WITH INSIGHTS ON SCREEN TIME FROM RESEARCHERS, INPUT FROM KIDS & TEENS, THIS BOOK IS PACKED WITH SOLUTIONS FOR HOW TO START AND SUSTAIN PRODUCTIVE FAMILY TALKS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND IT’S IMPACT ON OUR MENTAL WELLBEING.  

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Parenting in the Screen Age book cover