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Will Instagram's 'Take a Break' help teens? Experts weigh in

Instagram introduced new features to help teens navigate the app. Experts say it's a good first step but urge parents to remain engaged.
Instagram announced new features to keep teens safe on the social media platform.
Instagram announced new features to keep teens safe on the social media platform.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Instagram announced new features to keep teens safe on the social media platform and some parenting experts are applauding the efforts. While they believe some of these changes will help protect teens, they urge parents to take active roles in their teens’ social media use and wonder if some of the features will be able to deliver.

“It’s a good effort,” Dr. Candice Jones, an Orlando, Florida-based pediatrician, told TODAY Parents. “The devil is in the details to see how this stuff is going to actually work.”

One of the new features, “Take a Break,” seems to be aligned with what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends about screen use, Jones said. She hopes that the tool, which sends a message to teens if they’re on too long, can help curb mindless scrolling.

“I think that Instagram is taking the initiative to say, ‘Hey we know that setting time limits is important for various reasons so we’re going to put that into this as a feature,’” Jones said. “That’s in line with what the evidence and what our authority figures, such as AAP, are suggesting.”

Teens have to sign up for these alerts, but the app encourages them to do so. After the notifications are set up, teens using the app for long periods of time might get messages with suggestions, such as “take a few deep breaths” and “write down what you’re thinking,” to inspire them to disengage.  

Annette Nunez, a psychotherapist in private practice in Denver, believes this could be beneficial. She often works with teens on setting up boundaries for their social media use.

“Sometimes social media can become overwhelming,” she told TODAY Parents. “Sometimes the teen’s life becomes consumed with what the newest trends are, what their favorite TikToker or Instagram influencer is doing.”

Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting and child development expert, told TODAY Parents that she think this will help teens and families who are already concerned with their social media consumption.

“It will definitely encourage people of any age who are trying to spend less time on the app to think twice. It will remind them like setting an alarm,” she said. “This is useful as a safeguard for people who already have the goal of being more careful. And it’s a great reason to have a conversation (about social media) with your child again.”

Though, she adds that much like someone can hit snooze on their alarm, teens might easily disregard alerts to step away from the app. Gilboa also worries that some parents will tune out because they think the app has handled any issues that their kids might face and that it’s now safe.

“The message here is this is a backstop. This is the last protection,” she said. “This looks like family protection and it’s just simply crisis control from Meta.”

Another thing Instagram said it plans to change is redirecting teens who might be focusing on a topic for too long. This could prevent doom scrolling or fixation on unhealthy things.

“We need to prevent teens from getting stuck on one thing. The teenage mind is still developing,” Jones said. “They are very vulnerable to getting stuck on a topic and they need to be well rounded young people.”

Too much focus on some topics can negatively impact how teens think, Nunez said, especially if the same messages and images bombard them.  

“Let’s say that a teen is about body image or weight loss … the algorithm is going to keep on feeding you that same thing,” she said. “If your newsfeed is only filled with (the same thing) over and over and over again, it’s almost in a way dysfunctional.”  

Instagram also said it is curbing how adults interact with teens by preventing people from tagging or mentioning teens that don’t follow them. The experts say this is a good first step.

“All these layers of protection look good,” Jones said. “But again we have to see how this plays out.”

Gilboa said it’s an “excellent safety block.”

“It (helps) parents and teens take the precaution of making sure that kids don’t allow adults to follow them unless they know that adult in real life,” she said. “If you and your teen have decided that they’re not going to limit the people who follow them, they should definitely limit the people they follow and that’s something as you’re watching your child’s social media platform that is easy for you to go and check.”

Many people on social media know all too well that fake accounts and bots flood the apps. While some teens will know this, others will be blissfully unaware. That means that someone who might appear to be a teen is not and those kids might not understand it.

“We know there are bot accounts and fake accounts,” Jones said. “What are the policing on that on Instagram’s part and other social media platforms to make sure people are who they are?”

Jones advises parents to have their teens make their accounts private and not to interact with strangers. Starting next year, the app also plans to share “tools” for parents and guardians so that they can learn more about Instagram and see how much screen time their teens log on the app. The experts agree parents still need to take a hands-on approach when it comes to their teens’ social media use.

“Social media’s a new form of parenting but just like kids have curfews that parents have rules about … they should also parent around social media,” Nunez said. “It’s really important that parents start engaging, start becoming more educated about social media and how to use it.”

Parents hoping to help their teens navigate social media use can visit these stories for more advice and resources: