After the daughter of an A-list actress canceled a playdate with a fellow John Thomas Dye student, only to star in an online video of herself en route to a concert with other friends, the mother of the spurned girl had to deal with the fallout. Welcome to Insta-anxiety, a mental health epidemic of social media-induced FOMO that is particularly brutal at L.A.’s status-obsessed schools. Nancy Jo Sales, author of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, says it’s making teens miserable. When speaking to L.A. private-school girls for her book, one told her, “Social media is destroying our lives.” She asked why not simply log off. “Because then we would have no life.”
According to Jean Twenge, professor and author of the forthcoming book iGen, the average teen spends about six hours a day on their device and a little less than two on social media. Schools are finding they have to confront the problem head-on. “How to talk to your friends [on social media] is part of our health curriculum,” says Wildwood’s Emma Katznelson; the school has convened gradewide parent meetings to set norms on social media habits. When Insta-anxiety becomes overwhelming, Lori Getz, founder of Agoura Hills-based Cyber Education Consultants, urges a social media fast but stresses that the decision should come from the student. Twenge encourages teens to install an app limiting social media use and, “whatever you do, don’t check Instagram right before bed.” The biggest thing a parent can do to help is take a look in the black mirror. Says Sherman Oaks-based psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo, “Parents need to reinforce that social media is just one way to be in the world.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.