Unplugging for Mental Health: Teens Share Odd Strategies for a Positive Online Experience


Teens In today’s digital age, where social media plays a central role in the lives of many teenagers, a growing number of young individuals are adopting a practice that can significantly impact their mental health: unfollowing. This conscious decision to remove people and pages from their social media feeds that negatively affect their self-esteem is gaining traction, especially among Gen Z. Let’s delve into this phenomenon and its potential implications.

The Power of Unfollow: Teenagers are increasingly recognizing the power of unfollowing as a means to safeguard their self-esteem and overall well-being. Experts concur that this practice can have positive effects on mental health. For many adolescents, their attention is seen as a valuable resource, and they are taking steps to protect it.

Janine Edmunds, a 14-year-old from South Jamaica, Queens, highlights the significance of this act. She states, “Your attention is power.” On platforms like TikTok, where content consumption is prevalent, users can easily click ‘not interested’ on a video or block individuals who detract from their online experience. Edmunds emphasizes that this isn’t about being shady; it’s merely a way of curating a space that promotes positivity.

Detaching from Negative Influences: Kamryn Nutzel, a 16-year-old from New Orleans, shares her strategy of unfollowing influencers who adversely affect her self-esteem. When she senses that FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is creeping in, she takes steps to detach from the comparison cycle. Nutzel opts for self-care activities such as taking a bath, doing a face mask, or going to bed early. She asserts, “If I find myself getting in that cycle where I’m comparing myself, I’ll just unfollow the person.” Occasionally, she even goes a step further by temporarily deleting her social media apps until she regains a sense of well-being.

Intention Behind Posting A significant portion of American teenagers (four out of five) feels that social media enhances their connection to their friends’ lives, according to Pew Research Center. This perspective shapes how teenagers like Ella Moyer, a 17-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., approach platforms like Instagram. For Moyer, it’s a digital memory box, a platform to share highlights and cherished moments with friends and family. Instead of a parade of perfect celebrities, she emphasizes that she primarily sees posts from her friends, fostering a sense of connection.

Embrace the Outdoors: studies have underscored the benefits of spending time outdoors, even if it’s just a couple of hours each week. The positive impact on physical and mental health cannot be understated. Rosalina Pinkhasova, a 14-year-old from Fresh Meadows, Queens, heeds this advice. She dedicated a considerable part of her summer to enjoying her family’s new inflatable pool in the backyard. To manage her screen time, Pinkhasova sometimes sets alarms to remind her to put down her phone.

**Prioritize Face-to-Face Communication: in era dominated by digital communication, Noor Rauf, a 14-year-old from Astoria, Queens, and her friends recognize the importance of face-to-face interaction. They have implemented a “phones down” rule when someone has something meaningful to share. Rauf acknowledges that while phones offer entertainment and convenience, there are moments when genuine conversation takes precedence. By collectively putting their phones aside, they ensure that important discussions receive the attention they deserve.

In conclusion, the practice of unfollowing and consciously curating one’s online experience is becoming increasingly common among teenagers. It serves as a tool to protect their self-esteem and prioritize their mental well-being in the digital age. Additionally, teenagers are learning to strike a balance between their online and offline lives, recognizing the benefits of spending time outdoors and engaging in meaningful face-to-face conversations. These practices signal a shift toward more mindful and healthier digital habits among the younger generation.

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