Millennials may have been the first generation to come of age online, but their Gen Z successors really grew up with it — and almost never log out.
A 2018 Pew Research Center Study found that 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone; 45 percent say they use the internet almost constantly. For many of them, social media was a space for self-expression, entertainment and connection.
But as social media use has risen among teens, so have the percentages of depression† anxiety and suicide† While the relationship is not directly correlated, there is evidence that some platforms have exacerbated young people’s mental health problems; for example, internal Facebook investigation documents, leaked to The Wall Street Journal by whistleblower Frances Haugen, showed that Instagram exacerbated body image problems for one in three teenage girls.
A Study of March 2022 published in the scientific journal Nature found that the relationship between social media use and mental health varied by age, but there were two windows where social media use previously negatively impacted adolescent well-being: at the onset of puberty and again around age 19.
Emma Lembke, a 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 stimulate dialogue between young people who feel the adverse effects of social media and want to adapt their relationship with it.
In a telephone interview, Ms Lembke, who is 19, spoke about the movement she started, the pros and cons of social media and how she has worked to ease the grip on her well-being. The interview has been edited for clarity.
What was the first social network you joined?
I came on Instagram when I was 12.
What was the experience of being on social media like for you?
I spent at least six hours a day on these apps, just mindlessly scrolling and absorbing all these unrealistic body standards. That eventually led to disordered eating. It just became this horrific loop of using these apps especially Instagram feeling worse about myself but feeling like I couldn’t stop scrolling because it has this weird power over me. Social media served as a tool for reinforcing negative traits and feelings that I really didn’t want to have.
Many recent news stories have highlighted the negative effects social media can have on young people and their self-esteem. How did those stories play into your thinking about the project?
The first article I read that really launched me into it was: How smartphones destroyed a generation† I found study after study showing the possible correlation between increased anxiety levels, suicide rates, and eating disorder tracking, in addition to increased usage rates.
What other factors prompted your decision to start the Log Off Movement?
The most powerful thing for me was not the studies. It was the fact that there were no personal stories being told and there was no epicenter where people could come together and say, “Here’s my personal experience.” “Here’s How I Was Harmed.” “These were the accounts that made me feel worse about myself.” I knew that was necessary. The genie is out of the bottle.
As members of Gen Z, we understand that there are positives and negatives to social media, but right now, in its current usage, it can be really harmful.
How does the Log Off Movement address these issues?
Through our podcast, leadership council, educational curriculum on how to safely use online spaces, and blogs, we discuss ways we can progress with technology and turn it back into a tool rather than a controller.
What we’re asking teens to do is make them feel comfortable talking about their experiences so we can educate lawmakers to understand a Gen Z perspective, what we need from technology, what privacy concerns we have. , what mental health problems we have. We have an advocacy initiative through: Tech[nically] Politicspushing for laws that ensure teens have a safe online experience, especially the Account for appropriate design code in California.
Your website states that you intend to promote healthy livelihoods on social media, rather than asking people to opt out completely. What does healthy social media engagement look like?
I know that I can’t just log out completely for myself. Healthy use of social media would be any interaction where the user feels that it benefits him and his health is not harmed. It’s just mentally logging out and thinking about what makes you happiest and why you’re on social media. If it doesn’t benefit you at all, then I will say that the healthiest existence on social media and the healthiest habit is to log out.
Having some digital presence can be unavoidable in the present day. However, it doesn’t have to be all-encompassing. How have you adapted your own relationship with social media? Which methods have worked?
Whenever I go through a stressful period with exams, I delete Instagram. I know that in times of stress I will tend to use it mindlessly as a form of coping. Another thing that has worked for me is grayscale which makes the phone only display in black and white.
I always suggest: Screen Time Genius, which offers solutions for limiting screen time. I use Habit Lab for Chrome, which can help you reduce your time online. It creates a level of friction between you and addictive technology.
Are there any apps you particularly like?
be real is my favourite. At some point in the day, you’ll get a notification that says, “It’s time to be real.” And you take a picture of what you’re doing. It feels like a real moment of someone’s day.
What feedback have you gotten from other teens?
One spent six hours a day on social media and said her eyes hurt. Get off, she said, now she can see better. It just feels like the world is much clearer, both mentally and physically, to her.
What changes have you seen in your own mental health as a result of limiting your use of social media?
I’m still dealing with my Generalized Anxiety Disorder, my OCD. But I can tell you a lot, the symptoms, especially around my body image, have really decreased.
What is your ultimate goal with this effort?
I really hope it results in some sort of pivot that prioritizes the well-being of users in these online environments. Technology is ingrained in our generation’s DNA. It works to push for regulation so that more systematic change can take place where individuals can feel better protected and find healthier habits.