Instagram Launches 'Take a Break' Tool to Protect Teens Online

Who among us hasn’t lost hours scrolling social media after what only felt like a few minutes? Watching endless TikToks or Instagram Stories might be a fun distraction, but it can lead to mental health issues, especially among teenagers.

To help combat this problem, Instagram launched a “Take a Break” tool to protect teens online on Dec. 7. An announcement was posted to Instagram by Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram.

“At Instagram, we’ve been working for a long time to keep young people safe on the app; as part of that work, today we’re announcing some new tools and features to keep young people even safer on Instagram,” it said. “We’ll be taking a stricter approach to what we recommend to teens on the app, we’ll stop people from tagging or mentioning teens that don’t follow them, we’ll be nudging teens towards different topics if they’ve been dwelling on one topic for a long time and we’re launching the Take a Break feature in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which we previously announced.”

The post goes on to explain exactly what the “Take a Break” feature is. “It’s important to me that people feel good about the time they spend on Instagram, so today we’re launching ‘Take A Break’ to empower people to make informed decisions about how they’re spending their time,” the post said. “If someone has been scrolling for a certain amount of time, we’ll ask them to take a break from Instagram and suggest that they set reminders to take more breaks in the future. We’ll also show them expert-backed tips to help them reflect and reset.”

To encourage teens to use “Take a Break,” Instagram will be sending them notifications to suggest they turn the feature on. Early test results showed that once teens set the reminders, more than 90% of them keep them on, according to the post.

“The ‘Take a Break’ reminders build on our existing time management tools including Daily Limit, which lets people know when they’ve reached the total amount of time they want to spend on Instagram each day, and offers the ability to mute notifications from Instagram.

According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, 95% of all U.S. teens have access to a smartphone, with 45% reporting they are “almost constantly” on the internet.

Another study found that while many teens have positive experiences on social media — including 81% feel more connected with friends and 69% feel they have people to support them — spending too much time on social media can cause negative experiences as well. These include 45% feeling overwhelmed by drama, 43% feeling pressure to only post content that makes them look good, and 37% feeling pressure to post content that will get a lot of likes and comments.

All this time online can affect teens mentally. A 2019 study found “adolescents who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at a heightened risk for mental health problems.” Anne Marie Albano, PhD, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, talked about social media impacting young people’s mental health in an interview in May 2021. She said, “There are youth, especially those with social anxiety or depression, who may have a tendency to spend more time online and reduce their real, face-to-face contact with other folks. When an individual is not engaging in the world in a healthy way — interacting with others, managing themselves in challenging situations, whether it’s in classes or speaking up in class, going on interviews, dealing with conflict with peers — and instead increase their online presence, this can exacerbate their feelings of alienation, hopelessness, isolation, anxiety, and depression.”

In January, Instagram will be testing a new experience for people to see and manage their activity,  which will be for everyone but is “particular important for teens to more fully understand what information they’ve shared on Instagram, what is visible to others, and to have an easier way to manage their digital footprint,” according to the post.

Other safety features for teens that Instagram is developing including stopping people from tagging or mentioning teens that don’t follow them; being stricter about what is recommended to teens in Search, Explore, Hashtags, and Suggested Accounts; and nudging teens toward different topics if they’ve been dwelling on one for too long. In March, Instagram will be launching more tools for parents and guardians “to help guide and support their teens on Instagram,” which will include access to see how much time their teens spend on the app and ability to set time limits.

This “Take a Break” feature comes on the heels of Instagram’s failed Instagram Youth idea for kids under 13, in which 44 attorneys general urged Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Meta which Instagram is a part of, to drop it in May 2021 as a way to protect kids. “For too long, Meta has ignored the havoc that Instagram is wreaking on the mental health and well-being of our children and teens,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “Enough is enough.” In September 2021, Meta announced it would pause plans to create an Instagram for kids and rethink the concept.

Hopefully “Take a Break” brings some much-needed protection to kids and teens on Instagram!

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