A new student movement wants you to log off

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By Julie Halpert, The New York Times Company

Millennials may have been the first generation to come of age online, but their Gen Z successors have truly grown up with it — and hardly ever log off.

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone; 45% say they use the internet almost constantly. For many of them, social media has been a space for self-expression, entertainment and connection.

But as social media use has risen among teenagers, so have rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. Although the relationship is not directly correlational, there is evidence that some platforms have exacerbated young people’s mental health issues; for instance, internal research documents from Facebook, leaked to The Wall Street Journal by whistleblower Frances Haugen, showed that Instagram worsened body-image issues for 1 in 3 teenage girls.

A March study published in the scientific journal Nature found that the relationship between social media use and mental health varied by age, but that there were two windows where social media use was more likely to have a negative effect on the well-being of adolescents: at the start of puberty and again around age 19.

Emma Lembke, a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, experienced those negative effects firsthand. That’s why she started the Log Off Movement in June 2020. The project aims to spur dialogue among young people who are feeling the adverse effects of social media and want to adjust their relationship to it.

In a phone interview, Lembke, 19, spoke about the movement she started, the upsides and downsides of social media, and how she has worked to loosen its hold on her well-being. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Q: What was the first social network you joined?

A: I joined Instagram when I was 12.

Q: What was the experience of being on social media like for you?

A: I was spending at least six hours a day on these apps, just mindlessly scrolling, absorbing all of these unrealistic body standards. That down the line resulted in disordered eating. It just became this horrific loop of going on these apps, specifically Instagram, feeling worse about myself, but feeling as though I could not stop scrolling because it has this weird power over me. Social media served as a tool for amplification of negative attributes and feelings that I really didn’t want to have.

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