Tagged Social Media

What Are Neopronouns?

Are you a person, place or thing? We have good news.

A personal pronoun is a form of speech that stands in for a person or group of people. She is having opinions online; they are fighting in the comments; and, of course, as in the Prince song made famous by Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Nonbinary pronouns, as well — often the singular “they” and “them” — have become widespread. A 2019 Pew Research study found already that one in five Americans knew someone who uses nonbinary pronouns.

And then there are neopronouns.

A neopronoun can be a word a created to serve as pronoun without expressing gender, like “ze and “zir.”

A neopronoun can also be a so-called “noun-self pronoun,” in which a pre-existing word is drafted into use as a pronoun. Noun-self pronouns can refer to animals — so your pronouns can be “bun/bunself” and “kitten/kittenself.” Others refer to fantasy characters — “vamp/vampself,” “prin/cess/princesself,” “fae/faer/faeself” — or even just common slang, like “Innit/Innits/Innitself.”

How prevalent are neopronouns?

Not very — yet.

A recent survey of pronoun use among 40,000 L.G.B.T.Q. young people by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing suicide among queer and trans youth, found that one-quarter of them used nonbinary pronouns. (Participants were recruited from late 2019 through early 2020 by ads on social media.) Most said they used common pronouns like “he,” “she” and “they.”

Just 4 percent said they used neopronouns, including “ze/zir,” and “fae/faer,” often in combination with other pronouns.

So, is this for real?

Yes. And: Around any leading edge behavior online, trolling, high jinks and bad faith collide indistinctly. For those unfamiliar with the culture surrounding neopronouns right now, it’s likely impossible to distinguish between what’s playful, what’s deeply meaningful and what’s people being mean.

Many neopronoun users are dead serious, and are also part of online communities that are quick to react swiftly to offenses. They are deeply versed in the style and mores of contemporary identity politics conversations.

A popular Twitch streamer who goes by AndiVMG recently apologized after jokingly tweeting that her pronouns were “bad/af,” which led many neopronoun users to accuse her of transphobic invalidation of their identities.

AndiVMG did not respond to a request for comment for this article but wrote on Twitter: “It wasn’t meant to mock people who use neopronouns. However I have since educated myself on the matter and spoken to people who use neopronouns and I see why what I said was hurtful.”

Critics persist. “I’m not going to call u kitty/kittyself or doll/dollself just bc u think its cool,” one TikToker wrote in a video caption. “Pronouns are a form of identity not an aesthetic.”

But what’s the difference between an aesthetic and an identity anyway?

Illustration by Anna Stevens-Hill.

How do you know someone’s pronouns?

Neopronoun users may publish strict boundaries and preferences around behaviors, enthusiasms and hatreds. Many of them have defined lists of behaviors they find unacceptable around privacy or cruelty — sometimes referred to as “DNI” lists, short for “do not interact” — which they often outline in posts on Carrd, a service that makes single-page websites.

Carrd grew in scope during the protest movements of 2020; these days, many of its more than two million pages are used primarily for expressions of fandom and personhood. So, a social media bio will often include a link to an identity résumé on Carrd, often with a pronoun usage guide. (One sample: “Bug likes bugs.” “Those things belong to Bug.” “Bug wants to work by Bugself.”)

One Carrd explains neopronouns at length. In its FAQ section, it provides a response used often in the neopronoun community when talking to people who claim neopronouns “aren’t real words”: “Yes, literally every word is made up! Neopronouns are real because they carry meaning and are understood by others.”

Many people who use neopronouns don’t just use one set. They select a handful, and show off their collections on websites like Pronouny.xyz, a site that provides usage examples for neopronouns. Users make their own Pronouny pages, like this one, which includes xe/xem/xyr, moon/moonself, star/starself, bee/beeself, and bun/bunself. “Sorry if I have too many pronouns,” the page’s creator wrote. “You can use just one set or just they/them if they’re too many!!”

Illustration by Teal Doyle

Why are neopronouns so heated right now?

Online conversation gathered steam in November with some contentious TikToks about neopronouns. (“Bro, neopronouns are gonna break the English language,” said a young TikToker in November who goes by @Pokebag in a video that racked up hundreds of thousands of likes.)

But noun-self pronouns are not exactly new; they emerged from an online hotbed for avant-garde ideas around gender expression. “The noun-self pronouns emerged on Tumblr, starting around 2012, 2013,” said Jason D’Angelo, a linguist and queer scholar who has a substantial following on TikTok for videos about gender and identity issues. “They’re a unique way of exploring people’s understanding of their own gender.”

Mx. D’angelo (who takes the nonbinary references themself) said the social media discourse around neoprounouns “died off” to some extent around 2014, before resurfacing recently; they theorized that increasing interest may be a result of the coronavirus forcing people indoors.

“When we go about in the world, we have to perform gender in ways that are typical and normative over and over and over again, but because a lot of us have been in our houses for the last year, we haven’t had to perform them,” they said. “So the link between the performance and the self is weakened.”

I think this is weird or not OK!

That’s OK. Horror at noun-self pronoun usage is so common that it has spurred a meme in the neopronoun community. In it, people compare neopronouns to all kinds of things we take for granted.

Neopronoun users say new terms allow them to engage with gender — or other aspects of identity — in a way that aligns with how they feel.

In some cases, neopronouns are met with frustration because their use shows people divorcing themselves from continuing, unfinished gender business between men and women. Neopronoun users are trying to “construct something new and different that doesn’t have the same societal issues,” Mx. D’angelo said, as the traditional gender binary: “It’s almost like gender abolitionist.”

How can a pronoun address identity beyond gender?

Considering their Tumblr origins, it’s not surprising that many noun-self pronoun user interests’ overlap with fandoms, including anime, K-pop and Minecraft YouTuber stars like Dream. Intense fandoms are rife with neopronoun use.

Neopronouns are also prominent among some communities of young people who identify as neurodivergent, which includes diagnoses or descriptions like Asperger’s syndrome and autism.

Mx. D’Angelo said that one reason people on the autism spectrum may use neopronouns could be “because they feel like their relationship with gender is different than the neurotypical one.”

Neopronouns give people who feel different from the rest of the world a way to avoid all its boxes at once.

But pronouns are permanent and must never change!

In his book “What’s Your Pronoun?” Dennis Baron, an English professor at the University of Illinois, describes a series of attempts to create a nonbinary pronoun. (In 1808, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested “it,” which flopped; it is now beginning to have a small moment in the sun.) In all, Mr. Baron identified more than 200 gender-neutral pronouns proposed between the 19th century and the 1970s.

As nonbinary identities have become more widely accepted in recent decades, so did the requisite pronouns. In 2015, Harvard began allowing students to choose their preferred pronouns from a list that included gender-neutral terms like “ze, hir and hirs,” as did administrators at the University of Tennessee — before that university withdrew a guide to pronouns, amid conservative pushback.

Countries including Australia, Iceland and Argentina have given citizens the option to use nonbinary passports, and several U.S. states have done the same with driver’s licenses, including California and Oregon.

What do neopronoun users say about all this?

We wanted people to tell us in their own words about why and how they used neopronouns. Because they are very young, we agreed to let them use only their first names.

“Being neurodivergent, I tend to perceive how a word makes me feel rather than just seeing the word,” the noun-self user Gum, 13, wrote in a direct message on Twitter. “I chose my bink/bonk pronouns because they remind me of clowns. Clowns and harlequin dolls make me very happy.”

“Being neurodivergent, you are more likely to have a complicated relationship with your gender identity and expression, and pronouns are just one part of gender expression,” Elijah, 17, wrote.

“When I first encountered them I actually didn’t agree with them,” wrote one 15-year-old neopronoun user. “Eventually I met a lot of people online who used them and decided to educate myself further and realized that they were perfectly valid and just another way of expressing your gender to others. I chose the ones I use as I feel a connection to them, EG vamp/vamp pronouns — I feel a connection to vampires and that in a way feels connected to my gender.”

What are the limits of neopronouns?

Limits? What are those? Some people even use emojis. A 2018 post on the Tumblr emojiselfpronouns explains how the paw emoji may be used as a pronoun: “Where is 🐾? Did 🐾 bring 🐾 lunch, or buy it?”

And how would you say that anyway?

“They were not meant to be said in the first place,” the post explained. Emoji-self pronouns “are meant to be fun, and are meant to stand against what we see as ‘normal’ and ‘typical’ pronouns.”

But there actually are some limits. Neopronoun users have shut down the notion of using terms related to Black Lives Matter, like “BLM,” as neopronouns, arguing that it is inappropriate for people to use these terms in this way. Others have claimed that using “fae” as a neopronoun is culturally appropriative from pagan communities (this claim, as they say, is disputed).

And not everyone in the wider queer community supports noun-self pronouns.

“As a trans man, I think neopronouns are getting way out of hand,” Asa Pegler, 17, said in a TikTok from November.

In an interview, Mr. Pegler specified that his beef is not with gender-neutral neopronouns. He felt like elevating objects and animals to human pronoun levels was dismissive.

“I couldn’t stomach why anyone would want to identify as an object?” Mr. Pegler wrote in an Instagram direct message.

“They dehumanize us as trans people,” he added. “We are people! Not objects or animals. So that’s why I stated that they are out of hand, because they make us look like a bit of a joke.”

The neopronoun community comprises mostly internet-native young people, and is agile when it comes to facing down criticism and mockery. Social media posts affirming the validity of neopronoun identities are a constant refrain:

“If you use neopronouns, you are extremely valid and I love you,” one person wrote on Twitter.

“Neopronouns are so valid and if you disagree hard block me rn /srs,” another wrote.

“There will always be people IRL that will have something negative to say, whether it’s because they just don’t understand or they are genuinely just a bigot,” Elijah, the neopronoun user, wrote. “They know nothing about your personal experiences and have no business policing your identity.”

How Barely-There Botox Became the Norm

Will starting injections in your 20s and 30s make you look older? Preventive Botox explained.

Forget what you think you know about Botox. Once considered the not-so-secret tool of celebrities and the wealthy with a bad rap for freezing faces, the wrinkle-melting injections have become a commonplace activity of a normie class with money to spare.

“Many millennials prioritize taking care of themselves early on and really believe in prevention,” said Dr. Panta Rouhani Schaffer, a dermatologist in New York who has seen an uptick in younger patients requesting Botox in the last few years. “That just got amplified during the pandemic, when people have spent so much time staring at themselves on screens.”

But they’re looking for results à la J. Lo, not Jocelyn Wildenstein. It’s a softer approach, called “baby Botox” by some and “preventive Botox” by others, that is changing the common question, “Would you ever get Botox?” to “When will you start?”

The answer from millennials and Gen Zers is, increasingly, in their 20s and 30s, ages when most baby boomers and Gen Xers were not yet fretting over aging with the same all-consuming anxiety. (See: sunscreen, considered a must today but an afterthought for many until the early 1990s.)

Leah Walkiewicz, a 27-year-old product manager in Manhattan, has been getting Botox in her forehead since she was 24, a decision spurred by what she felt was early wrinkle formation and a close look at how her family has aged.

“I always had obvious fine lines on my forehead, and makeup would settle into those lines really obviously,” she said of her decision to start so young.

Despite some nerves, the discreet shots her dermatologist administered led her to return for more, roughly every 10 months. This year she moved beyond getting Botox in the forehead and glabella (the area between the eyebrows) to test out injections in her “crow’s feet.”

“It’s been crazy to see the progress,” Ms. Walkiewicz said. “If more people had told me what you can do with Botox sooner, I think I would have gone a couple of years earlier.”

From Stigma to Sharing

Social media has been both a blessing and a curse in our relationship to Botox. While the selfie-heavy platforms have made it easier than ever for people to compare and despair over their looks, they’ve also helped destigmatize and increase education about the once-taboo subject.

Kathryn Gongaware, a 32-year-old yoga teacher and comedian in Chicago, was always curious about Botox, but it wasn’t until she started mentioning it to friends and realized that people she wouldn’t have expected (including her au-natural-everything acupuncturist) were getting it that she felt comfortable making the jump at age 30.

“The more people were open about it, the more it felt destigmatized,” she said.

This forthrightness has been particularly transformative among women of color, who are often left out of conversations and marketing about cosmetic procedures. There’s also a deeply rooted stigma in many communities of color that by opting for cosmetic procedures that have inclined toward European beauty ideals, you’re rejecting your roots, said Dr. Onyeka Obioha, a dermatologist in Los Angeles who has been getting Botox since she was 25.

“Historically, and even today, the majority of advertisements for cosmetic procedures do not feature or target minorities,” Dr. Obioha said. “But now with social media, there’s more attention given to the fact that women of color also get cosmetic procedures, so the stigma surrounding them seems to be decreasing.”

While online sharing has helped reduce the stigma, it has brought with it some downside, too — namely, young people thinking they need to start Botox because their friends are doing it.

“I’ve had 20-year-olds in college come in without knowing anything about Botox who really don’t need it, but they have this sense of FOMO because their friends are doing it,” said Dr. Sheila Farhang, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in Arizona, who doles out skin-care tips to thousands of followers on Instagram and YouTube. “I will not inject someone that age, and I try to explain to them why they really don’t need it.”

The Difference in ‘Baby Botox’

A shift in how Botox is administered has also helped convince younger people to try it. “When Botox first came out, people were using it to really isolate and freeze the muscles, so that frozen look was what people associated it with,” Dr. Schaffer said. At the time, doctors were using 20 to 30 units in one area or muscle alone, a dosing that has lowered significantly in the last 10 years.

“People are starting to appreciate that by doing less, you still get a very nice softening that gives people enough of what they want to see in terms of tightening and retexturizing,” she said.

“Baby Botox” involves using 20 to 35 units spread out across multiple muscles in the face, most commonly in the forehead (two to 12 units), glabella and brow area (20 to 22 units) and the corners of the eyes (three to four units per eye). The result when done right is a refreshed look that doesn’t render one’s face immobile.

Most patients in their 20s and 30s are looking to smooth out fine lines and prevent the formation of deep, static wrinkles in the future. “With Botox, over time, you’re thinning out that muscle and using it less, so those lines don’t really get etched in,” Dr. Schaffer said.

For some patients, the benefits of Botox extend beyond preventing wrinkles. Dr. Farhang has used small doses of Botox in the muscle above the lip to flip it out so it looks fuller; in the columella area just below the nose to raise the nasal tip a millimeter; and in the muscles at the corners of the jawline for slimming purposes.

While these injections don’t last as long as traditional Botox, because of lower doses and increased muscle movement in these areas, “they offer little tweaks” that can make a difference in one’s appearance,” Dr. Farhang said.

What Could Go Wrong?

While less risky than filler injections, Botox is not always the Benjamin Button miracle cure it’s made out to be. Proceeding with caution, particularly when starting young, is key.

“Botox is very much a medical procedure,” Dr. Farhang said. “It’s not a Groupon situation.”

On the plus side, the impermanence of Botox means that even if an injector overdoes the dosage, it will wear off without long-term facial alteration. With continued high doses, your muscles can technically atrophy, or lose their strength. But with other muscles moving in the face, that’s not something you’ll necessarily notice, Dr. Farhang said, and some research has shown that if you take a break from Botox, those muscles rebuild.

Although it’s rare, some patients who start with high doses in their 20s say their skin has thinned over time, but experts say this has not been shown in research literature. In fact, some studies suggest that Botox can improve the elasticity of skin.

Still, Dr. Schaffer said, “one could postulate that the skin may feel thinner or appear crepey because the muscle mass that was providing volume under the skin has decreased.” To avoid such eventualities, it’s best to find a doctor with a conservative touch and supplement the procedure with skin-supporting routines like daily SPF.

As for the concern that your body will get “used to” Botox and stop working, doctors say there’s little such evidence. “In my experience, many patients just require fewer units over time because their facial muscles are less dynamic and thus require less,” Dr. Schaffer said.

Despite its impermanence, “bad” Botox can last for months, making it risky for your self-esteem. A few weeks ago, Dr. Farhang saw a bride-to-be three weeks out from her wedding with a droopy eyelid from having been injected too low and too deep in the forehead and brow area.

“There’s literally nothing I can do to fix it until it wears off, besides prescribing her an eyedrop that activates that muscle a bit,” she said. “It may be temporary, but four months is a really long time to look wonky.”

Team Molly: The Family After Molly Steinsapir's Death

The Story of ‘Team Molly’

While her daughter was hospitalized, one mother built more room for our national grief.

  • Feb. 21, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET
Molly and Kaye Steinsapir, in a photo provided by the family.
Molly and Kaye Steinsapir, in a photo provided by the family.Credit…Holly Gable

Strapped in the front seat of an ambulance as her daughter lay injured in the back, Kaye Steinsapir took out her phone and began to type.

“Please. Please. Please,” she wrote in part. “Everyone PRAY for my daughter Molly. She has been in an accident and suffered a brain trauma.” Later that day, at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, she tweeted her message.

Her daughter, 12, was injured while riding her bicycle with a friend near the family’s home in Los Angeles. Ms. Steinsapir, 43, said she was grasping for a tool that could quickly get her plea to as wide an audience as possible.

“I was so helpless,” she said in an interview on Thursday. “I just wanted to broadcast to anyone who could lift Molly up in prayer and could lift me up in prayer, too.”

The hospital’s Covid-era rules initially prevented her and her husband, Jonathan Steinsapir, from being at Molly’s bedside together. The first day of the hospitalization, Mr. Steinsapir spent the days with their two sons at home, while Ms. Steinsapir remained with their daughter in the intensive care unit.

“In the hospital, there were so many hours of waiting, waiting, waiting, and nothing to be done,” she said. In the darkest moments of panic or uncertainty, she reached out on the internet. “So many people shared stories of survival from traumatic brain injury,” said Ms. Steinsapir, who is a lawyer, as is her husband.

“The hope that all these strangers gave us was what sustained us. If we didn’t have that hope, I don’t know how we would have been able to do what we needed to do, to parent Molly and parent our boys,” she said.

Ms. Steinsapir, her husband, Jonathan Steinsapir, and their three children pictured in front of their home in Los Angeles.Credit…Robin Aronson

She didn’t have much experience on Twitter. Like many parents, she had shared family photographs to a small circle on Facebook and Instagram but in the months before the most recent presidential election, she began to spend more time on Twitter, following news sources and politicians. She barely knew how to tweet.

In turning to her phone to express her determination, anguish and fear, it never occurred to her that she would begin a 16-day-long conversation between thousands of strangers from around the world about life, death, family, religion and ritual.

Alana Nichols, a doctor and lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., checked in on Ms. Steinsapir every day. “As a mother, I was drawn to her vulnerability and her strength, and how she managed to turn Twitter into a positive tool of connection and hope,” she said.

This year, Dr. Nichols said, the election, reactions to the most recent Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic have turned the internet into a marketplace of anger and vitriol.

“Social media can be so toxic and the doomscrolling phenomenon can put you in this place of total helplessness,” she said. “But Kaye gave us a way to help. She told us we could pray for her and her daughter. Our nation is divided on every big thing happening right now and here it is you have yet another tragedy — but it has had the opposite effect.”

The coronavirus pandemic has left Americans grappling with the colliding forces of isolation and grief, with technology and social media becoming further entangled with the rituals of death. Covid goodbyes are routinely said via FaceTime, with hospital staff using phones and tablets to help family members approximate bedside vigils and final goodbyes.

The Broadway actor Nick Cordero became sick from coronavirus in March and was hospitalized for months before he died in July. Amanda Kloots, his wife, attracted a global online audience of millions that prayed, sang, exalted and ultimately mourned with her. “I just wanted to share because grief is important to talk about, especially at a time right now where a lot of people are suffering from loss,” she said in one video.

Later last year, the model and actress Chrissy Teigen created a national dialogue about our culture’s comfort with public sharing of death and tragedy when she posted on Instagram hospital photographs taken of her, her husband John Legend, and their baby Jack, who was born prematurely and died.

“I cannot express how little I care that you hate the photos,” Ms. Teigen wrote in an essay later that month. “How little I care that it’s something you wouldn’t have done. I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them.”

Laurie Kilmartin, a writer for “Conan,” live-tweeted her mother’s last days before she died from complications of coronavirus in June. Ms. Kilmartin had tweeted about her father’s deterioration and death from lung cancer in 2014 and felt even more an impetus to do so as her mother was dying, because of the combination of grief and isolation. “What’s so awful about Covid is you’re completely alone,” she said. “All you have is your phone.”

Ms. Kilmartin followed Ms. Steinsapir’s story on Twitter and understood, from her own experiences, the desire to share in real time. “In a normal situation there would be 20 family members rotating in to support her and her husband,” Ms. Kilmartin said. “I’m glad she had the internet to hold her hand.”

Ms. Steinsapir also explained to her followers why she was letting strangers in on the experience. “Writing and sharing my pain helps to lessen it,” she wrote. “When I’m sitting here in this sterile room hour after hour, your messages of hope make me feel less alone. Even my husband, who is very private, likes reading them.”

In what became a short-form diary, Ms. Steinsapir provided unvarnished description of the realities of witnessing a medical crisis, marked by endless hours of waiting for her daughter to wake up that are then punctured by sudden calamity.

She heaped praise on her daughter’s doctors and nurses, worried about her two young sons, Nate and Eli, and told the internet all about her daughter, an environmentalist and animal lover who chose to be a vegetarian before she was in kindergarten, who was devoted to Judaism and feminism (she used “she/her” pronouns for God) and who dreamed of being a theater actress and a politician.

Like Ms. Teigen, Ms. Steinsapir pushed back against people who criticized her. “Believe me, I wish I were doing anything but desperately begging for prayers to save my daughter on Twitter,” she replied.

But mostly she called for support through prayers. The focus on God was part of what drew Melissa Jones, a mother in Locust Grove, Ga., to read each tweet and reply, even befriending others who were following closely.

“The faith she had hit me,” said Ms. Jones, who cried when speaking about a family she said she has come to love. “The internet right now is a horrible place, the Trump years were very divisive and people have been just so ugly for the last four years, but Molly’s spirit brought out the faith and the goodness in people.”

Ms. Jones had also faced the possibility of losing a child, when her son was critically injured. “My son was in a coma for 11 days and I had that experience of wondering, ‘Is my child going to wake up and am I going to have them back? I knew exactly where Kaye was,” she said.

On Feb. 15, Ms. Steinsapir announced that Molly had died.

“While our hearts are broken in a way that feels like they can never be mended, we take comfort knowing that Molly’s 12 years were filled with love and joy. We are immensely blessed to be her parents,” she wrote.

She agreed to speak to a reporter amid her family’s mourning, she said, because Molly would want her to console the millions of Americans who have lost loved ones in the last year.

“I want to communicate to people that we honor everyone who is grieving and want to share with them the light and love that was shown to Molly,” she said.

The Pandemic Brought Depression and Anxiety. Reaching Out Helped.

Voices

The Pandemic Brought Depression and Anxiety. Reaching Out Helped.

Connecting with others on social media has helped ease the fear and loneliness of pandemic living.

Credit…Evan Cohen

  • Feb. 9, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Depression crept up on me over the summer and into the fall, so slowly that I wasn’t aware of the change in my well-being — until suddenly I was.

For most of that time I chose to tough it out, largely keeping quiet about my downward trajectory. I knew I wasn’t alone. A few months into the pandemic, the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention warned that mental health diagnoses — anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide — were on the rise. By year’s end, a government survey found that the nation’s mood had continued to darken.

Still, many people I know continue to say they are “fine” — or defiantly “fine, fine, fine,” as one friend answered when I checked in with him.

To be honest, “fine” had been my go-to response when someone asked how I was doing, even as depression and what I often call its first cousin, anxiety, set in. Years ago, a psychotherapist helped wean me off “fine” as an answer to the question, “How are you?” He explained, “Fine is neither an emotion or a feeling,” urging me toward greater self-awareness and a more honest response like “happy” or “content,” or “angry” or “sad.” Apparently, I had forgotten that lesson.

In the run-up to Election Day my outlook had dimmed sufficiently that I could see the depth of this darkness. For instance, every time my friend Amy phoned I realized I was taking a nap, preparing to take one, or just finishing one. That’s long been one of my telltale signs that all’s not well. “Maybe I can sleep through the rest of the pandemic,” I said to her one day, joking but not joking.

About that time, a fellow writer asked on Facebook how people were faring, after admitting she found herself struggling. A deluge of posts expressing worry and sadness and loneliness resulted. That outpouring of emotion told me many of us had been hiding our true feelings; it also indicated the importance of someone going first, as if to break the ice by admitting, “I’m not OK.”

Soon after, I raised my hand by posting on my Facebook feed, “Yes, this is a hard time for me.” I provided some additional detail, like the fact that a topsy-turvy stomach had whipped me into such an anxious state I’d become convinced I had pancreatic cancer instead of a simple bellyache. What turned out to be merely a pulled calf muscle started off — in my mind — as a Covid-induced blood clot about to break free.

Fear had become my constant companion.

Even though I’d gone public about my struggles with depression before, I still worried about talking openly about my state of mind, largely because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues. I reached out to David Cates, a clinical psychologist and behavioral health consultant to the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Biocontainment Unit and National Quarantine Center. He explained what I already knew but had sidestepped. “Acknowledging that something is wrong is the first step to addressing a problem,” he said. “It allows us to begin problem-solving. When someone else acknowledges their difficulties, whether one-on-one or in a public forum, it can make it easier for us to acknowledge our own.”

That Facebook post of mine — the one where I raised my hand — helped me tremendously. And apparently many others. More than 200 friends responded with their own painful confessions. “Anxiety, depression and loneliness x 100,” wrote one, who added, “body aches which at 3 a.m., betwixt and between anxiety nightmares — become sure signs of debilitating disease eating away my insides.” Another posted, “In my mind I’ve had five major diseases yet all my labs are fine.”

Friends posted about insomnia, nausea, lack of focus, eye tics, agita, anxiety, relationship issues and being “angry, cranky and crazy.” Almost as quickly as one friend would acknowledge a condition, someone else would volunteer: “me too.”

My admission had the intended consequence: It created an opening for others. “You’ve put words to what I think is a collective sentiment,” posted a neighbor whom I see often, but who had never before discussed any of these feelings with me. “Everyone seems to feel disconnected from others, irritable and frightened,” a colleague wrote, helping to make universal our ongoing challenges.

Since then I’ve posted regularly: “It’s Friday check-in time. How are you all doing this week?” Friends and followers have continued to acknowledge their trials and tribulations as well as their successes and triumphs.

I also scheduled a virtual appointment with my primary care physician, who told me to take an antacid for my stomach upset, which has helped.

Now, in the depths of winter, more people I know are acknowledging their mental health issues in public. “I must admit I am feeling a little despairing this morning,” wrote one woman I know, adding, “I am sure I am not the only one. If you are, too, you are not alone.” Her friends quickly followed up. “The weight is heavy today. Thanks for connecting.” And another: “I see you. Sitting silently beside you.”

So many of us think we are the “only one.” That we’re by ourselves, invisible. I find it comforting that many of my friends are finding connection with each other through social media. “I feel terrible and feel terrible for everyone posting here, but there is some consolation in seeing that we’re not alone,” posted a friend.

To see each other, we need to make ourselves visible. To help each other, we need to acknowledge we need a hand, too. I’m trying.

Gorilla Glue as Hair Spray? ‘Bad, Bad, Bad Idea’

Gorilla Glue as Hair Spray? ‘Bad, Bad, Bad Idea’

After more than 15 washes, various treatments and a trip to the emergency room, Tessica Brown’s hair still won’t budge. A TikTok explaining her dilemma has drawn a huge following and advice.

Social media users have offered advice and support to Tessica Brown after she used Gorilla Glue as a hairspray substitute. She has documented her ordeal on TikTok.
Social media users have offered advice and support to Tessica Brown after she used Gorilla Glue as a hairspray substitute. She has documented her ordeal on TikTok.

  • Feb. 8, 2021, 8:50 a.m. ET

Social media users have been captivated by the plight of a woman named Tessica Brown, her decision to use Gorilla Glue instead of hair spray and a harrowing, monthlong quest to undo a seemingly permanent hairstyle.

It all started when Ms. Brown ran out of her usual hair spray, Got2b Glued. In a pinch, she opted to use a different product she had on hand to finish off her hair: Gorilla Spray Adhesive, made by Gorilla Glue.

“Bad, bad, bad idea,” she said in a TikTok posted last week that cautioned others against making the same mistake.

After more than 15 washes, various treatments and a trip to the emergency room, her hair still hadn’t moved.

“My hair has been like this for about a month now — it’s not by choice,” she said in the video.

Ms. Brown’s hair mishap has intrigued internet users who became invested in her predicament and have rooted her on virtually, leaving messages of encouragement and ideas in the comment sections of her posts.

Her original video has been viewed nearly 16 million times on TikTok and nearly two million times on Instagram, and has been widely shared across other social platforms.

The situation has elicited communal cringes and sympathy for Ms. Brown, who has become known as the Gorilla Glue Girl, as days have passed and various remedies failed to help.

“You have to keep us updated 😂😂😂😂I’m too invested now. I’m going on the journey with you😩,” one user commented under her Instagram post.

Ms. Brown has brought her followers along with her through several attempts to “get rid of this forever ponytail,” as she described it on Instagram.

In a second video, Ms. Brown demonstrated an attempt to wash it out: She filled her palm with a generous amount of shampoo, slathered it over her head and rubbed furiously. She wiped off the suds, which did not appear to have penetrated the glue layer, and seemed to be close to tears.

She later posted on Instagram that a combination of tea tree oil and coconut oil that she left on her head overnight was an “epic fail.”

“This is the life I’m living at this moment,” she said in the video. “This is the life that I guess I’m going to have to live.”

Ms. Brown did not respond to interview requests on Sunday.

Some users suggested natural remedies, many involving apple cider vinegar or various rubbing alcohol or acetone concoctions. A woman who identified herself as a licensed stylist suggested applying glycerin to her hair, letting it sit about 30 minutes and then massaging it to loosen the glue.

“We are very sorry to hear about the unfortunate incident that Miss Brown experienced using our Spray Adhesive on her hair,” Gorilla Glue said in a statement on Sunday. It called what happened a “unique situation” because the product was not intended to be used “in or on hair” because it is considered permanent.

“We are glad to see in her recent video that Miss Brown has received medical treatment from her local medical facility and wish her the best,” it said.

On Saturday, Ms. Brown posted a video of the St. Bernard Parish Hospital in Chalmette, La., and shared a photo of herself on a hospital bed.

A later video showed another woman, a TikTok user named Juanita Brown, applying acetone and sterile water to Ms. Brown’s head. It was unclear if the treatment worked.

Skin and hair experts have weighed in on TikTok and other social media platforms with suggestions.

Tierra Milton, the owner of She and Her Hair Studio on Staten Island, said that if someone in Ms. Brown’s predicament walked into her salon, she would likely recommend that she shave her head.

“I wouldn’t even try to salvage it because we’re talking about an industrial product that is used for other purposes besides hair,” Ms. Milton said. “Women all across the board, all walks of life, should seek professional help when it comes to hair care regimens.”

She noted that Gorilla Glue is not sold in beauty supply stores.

Dr. Dustin Portela, a dermatologist, suggested starting with acetone to break down the glue, or using Goo Gone, a product that helps remove bandages and adhesives. Coconut oil, sunflower oil or Vaseline warmed in hot water could also work, he said, but he added that solutions should be tested on a small area first.

“Obviously Gorilla Glue is designed — and any super glue — not to wash out easily with soap and water,” he said. “They formulate the product with bonds to withstand the most common types of things, so I knew she was going to have an incredibly difficult time.”

Adhesives like Gorilla Glue are not meant to be used on skin, Dr. Portela said.

They can be irritating and could cause rashes like contact dermatitis. If all else fails, he said, going to a salon to have her head shaved might be the best solution.

“I think there’d be a lot of anxiety that anybody would have if they were in that situation,” he said. “Now more than ever we just need to have compassion for people and try to help them. And she deserves all the help she can get right now because it’s a really unfortunate situation.”

Celebrity Pregnancy Is Big Business

Celebrity Pregnancy Is Big Business

These days, content begins at conception.

Clockwise from top left, Instagram posts by Danielle Brooks, Nicole Polizzi, Iskra Lawrence (pictured with Philip Payne) and Audrina Patridge, all of whom teamed up with brands to produce pregnancy-related content.
Clockwise from top left, Instagram posts by Danielle Brooks, Nicole Polizzi, Iskra Lawrence (pictured with Philip Payne) and Audrina Patridge, all of whom teamed up with brands to produce pregnancy-related content.

  • Jan. 23, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

The year 1948 yielded one of history’s great non-announcements: an opaque statement from Buckingham Palace that Queen Elizabeth II would undertake “no public engagements after the end of June.” That she was pregnant with her first child, Prince Charles, went wholly unmentioned.

In the intervening decades, things have gotten a bit more explicit — and lucrative. The news that a public figure is pregnant often comes directly from the source, in a post that may also be an #ad.

The most obvious brand partners in this area are purveyors of pregnancy tests. Clearblue has worked with upward of 70 celebrities and influencers on endorsements of its products since 2013. First Response has sponsored pregnancy announcements, too, including ones by the singer Kelis and the ballroom dancer Karina Smirnoff.

Other companies, like Belly Bandit (which sells maternity wear), Enfamil (the formula maker) and CBR (a cord-blood banking company), also make deals with celebrities around pregnancy and other parenting milestones.

When Audrina Patridge of “The Hills” announced her pregnancy on Twitter in 2015, her words were accompanied by a photo reminiscent of a 1950s advertisement for laundry detergent: pleasant partial smile, product (a Clearblue pregnancy test) positioned on a diagonal with the model’s shiny eyes and, of course, some copy to hammer the point home (#babyontheway).

“It was a very clear, easy way to announce to the world and let everybody know at the same time that you’re pregnant, because it says ‘pregnant.’ You’re holding it,” Ms. Patridge said. (Still, it seemed to confuse her reality co-star Spencer Pratt, who was unsure whether the post was an ad or personal announcement. Today, we take for granted that celebrity baby posts can be both.)

Iskra Lawrence, a British model with four million Instagram followers, told her management team that she’d seen the paid announcement posts and was interested in doing one herself. She shared her news in late 2019 with First Response and donated $20,000 — most of the fee, she said — to two followers experiencing infertility; the post was, at once, a P.R. blast, an ad and an awareness campaign.

The amount of exposure a brand will get by sponsoring a pregnancy announcement is “exponential,” said Sarah Boyd, a vice president at Socialyte, which brokers marketing deals for influencers and celebrities. The fee depends on “their fame and their relevance at the time,” she said, and likely diminishes after their first child. Ms. Boyd estimated that someone like Kylie Jenner could ask for more than $1 million.

But for many stars, the decision to post at all is fraught with questions about control, influence, labor and privacy.

‘People Want More and More of You’

These brand partnerships reinforce the idea of motherhood as defined by consumption and spending, said Renée Cramer, a professor of law, politics and society at Drake University and the author of “Pregnant With the Stars: Watching and Wanting the Celebrity Baby Bump.”

In her book, she explains the way celebrity mothers become “branded exemplars of how ordinary people can and should live.” When we see a celebrity holding up a certain brand of pregnancy test or diapers, Dr. Cramer said in an interview, it reminds “average people that, well, this company belongs in your nursery, even if there’s no good reason for it.”

Ellis Cashmore, a visiting professor of sociology at Aston University in Birmingham, England, and the author of “Kardashian Kulture: How Celebrities Changed Life in the 21st Century,” noted that celebrities have already licensed their names to perfume lines, turned their lives into smartphone apps and sold their time on apps like Cameo. “It’s only logical to expect that they are monetizing a life before it becomes a life,” he said.

Nicole Polizzi, who came to fame as Snooki on the MTV show “Jersey Shore,” has watched the tide shift on celebrities navigating this part of their public lives. She announced her first pregnancy in 2012 on the cover of People magazine. “Back then it was such a big deal,” she said. “By the third, you’re just like, ‘Right, Instagram post. Here it is.’”

The public once wrestled with the notion of celebrity moms oversharing. Now, fans want to know the sex, the name, the due date. Paparazzi are stationed outside of maternity wards. In a world that is always on baby bump watch, the celebrity has two options, Dr. Cramer said: “I can try and control the image, or I can profit some way.”

Babies are expensive, said the actress Danielle Brooks (best known for her role on “Orange Is the New Black”), who ultimately felt joyful about teaming up with Clearblue to announce her pregnancy to the world in late 2019. “You have to do what is right for your family.”

There is also pressure as an online figure to “keep creating content” to build your following, said Ms. Lawrence, the model. After birth, she said she felt a “tug of war” between wanting to be present with her baby and wondering: “Is this something that I should capture just in case?”

“People want more and more of you,” said the author and actress Jenny Mollen, who is married to the actor Jason Biggs. She has talked about postpartum bladder leakage, Grave’s disease, Botox and her placenta; she announced her second pregnancy with a baby product company in a five-figure deal, she said.

Dr. Cramer said this continuing sharing is “double performative labor.” The celebrity not only carries out the reproductive and care-taking labor of motherhood, but also transmits a performance of that identity to followers.

Even celebrities who keep a lid on their pregnancies must strategize the eventual rollout of their child. On Aug. 26, UNICEF announced the birth of a baby to Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom on Instagram. (Ms. Perry had announced her pregnancy in a music video.) Ms. Perry then reposted the Unicef link; her post was liked by more than 5.5 million people.

The Private Becomes Public

Pregnant people famous and not grapple over the timing of these announcements. Conventional wisdom is to wait until at least 12 weeks before revealing a pregnancy, though second- or third-trimester pregnancy loss is still possible. When a publicly announced pregnancy is lost, it becomes a much bigger story, said Dr. Cashmore.

Takiema Bunche-Smith woke up in her Brooklyn home on Oct. 1 to direct messages from friends warning her that she may find social media triggering that day. Chrissy Teigen had just posted photos portraying the loss of her third child with John Legend, and social media was overflowing with both sympathy and criticism.

Ms. Bunche-Smith’s first child was stillborn at 37 weeks and two days in 2003; at the time, talking about such a loss felt taboo. She found Ms. Teigen’s post powerful. “The photos were so poignant and bittersweet and such a clear example of what every one of us experiences,” she said. (Ms. Teigen noted in a Medium essay that the responses she received from followers were overwhelmingly kind, and that they helped her through an impossible time.)

“You worry about upsetting other pregnant women, you worry about how your loss will affect them,” said Georgina Brackstone, a 40-year-old jewelry designer in London who lost her first daughter 33 weeks into pregnancy nine years ago. She said public figures like Ms. Teigen had “allowed people like me to talk about their experiences.”

Elizabeth Cordero, a Los Angeles hairdresser who has had multiple miscarriages and lost her baby seven days after birth, said there is no “safe” date after which to announce. She is halfway through a pregnancy and said that “this time around, we’ve decided that we’re just going to celebrate every damn day.”

In situations where there are birth complications, difficulties breastfeeding, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, or bladder leakage, celebrities now seem more inclined to share this too, with the hope that their openness may help someone else.

“If they are doing a public service, or they believe that they are, in talking about a product, there are women who will benefit from that message, whether or not it’s paid,” Dr. Cramer said.

It is assumed that the sharing also benefits the author, something Ms. Mollen has begun to question. “The more of ourselves we give away, the more the more we’re sort of rewarded for it, and that’s a slippery slope,” she said. “It’s all performance, even the stuff that you’re saying: ‘This is real. This is my real life.’”

In April, Ms. Lawrence welcomed her baby with her partner, Philip Payne, who is a music executive. When her followers wanted to know about her at-home water birth, she shared a video of that. It seemed important, she said.

Now, she’s not as sure about putting it all on Instagram. “The aim is to be more in control of my life and future and career,” she said. “Having it so much reliant on social media feels unstable.”

To Create a Healthy Habit, Find an Accountability Buddy

Well Challenge Day 6

To Create a Healthy Habit, Find an Accountability Buddy

Whether it’s a person or an app that sends us reminders, we make better choices when we’re being watched (even by ourselves.)

Credit…Andrew B Myers
Tara Parker-Pope

  • Jan. 8, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

If you want to make positive changes in your life, try building on a lesson many of us learned in 2020: Hold yourself accountable.

The notion of accountability — to yourself and to others — has been an important part of pandemic living. To avoid spreading the virus, we’ve needed to be accountable for wearing a mask, limiting our contacts and keeping our distance.

But accountability can also help you achieve your health goals. Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before,” a book about forming healthy habits, says that accountability is an important tool for making and breaking habits.

Accountability works best when it comes from the outside. You can create accountability by checking in with a friend every day to talk about healthful eating. You’re more likely to exercise if you’ve made a plan to walk with a friend or scheduled a workout with a personal trainer. You can create public accountability by declaring your intention on social media.

If you prefer to stay accountable only to yourself, you can create accountability by using an app that sends you daily reminders or by wearing a Fitbit or smart watch to track your exercise habits. You can even hold yourself accountable through a daily journal entry.

“We do better when someone’s watching,” Ms. Rubin said. “Even when we’re the ones doing the watching!”

A 2018 North Carolina State University study of 704 people enrolled in a 15-week online weight-loss program found that participants with buddies lost more weight and waist inches than those who took the course without buddy support.

So for today’s Well challenge, think about a health goal you want to achieve and focus on how you can hold yourself accountable. I’ve included a few suggestions for how to do it. Sign up for the Well newsletter to get the 7-Day Well Challenge in your inbox.

Day 6

Create an Accountability Plan

What is your goal for 2021? Do you want to improve your eating habits, lose weight or exercise more? Or maybe you just want to finish that screenplay you’ve been working on? You’re more likely to succeed if you get some help.

Find an accountability buddy. Choose a friend who wants to achieve a similar goal and make a plan. Accountability might mean meeting each other once or twice a week for a walking date. Or it could be a daily text check-in to see how you’re doing on a diet or a Zoom call to work on a decluttering project together.

“Some people are very accountable to themselves, but not most people,” said Dr. Tim Church, a well-known exercise and obesity expert and chief medical officer for Naturally Slim, an app-based behavioral health program in Dallas. “In my years of working with thousands of people, there’s one thing that drives accountability more than anything else: If you want to keep people doing a behavior, get a buddy.”

While the presence of an accountability buddy adds some gentle peer pressure, the key is to focus on the behavior, not success or failure. For instance, if a person is trying to lose weight, don’t focus on the scale. Instead, check in and remind them to log what they ate, encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables and remind them of the benefits of a regular weigh-in (but you don’t need to ask them the result). If they’re beating themselves up for eating two desserts, talk about what might have triggered an emotional eating binge.

“An accountability partner is there to support you, to problem-solve and to celebrate even the small victories,” Dr. Church said. “Judgment is the quickest way to destroy all that. People are so hard on themselves. You don’t need to be hard on them.”

Use an app. An app is a great way to add accountability to your day. Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm will send daily reminders and track your progress. The weight-loss app Noom asks you to check in for a few minutes each day, complete mini-health courses and track what you’ve eaten. The Fitbit app counts your steps, will sync with your smart scale and vibrates to remind you to get up and move.

Set reminders. Once you set a health goal, hold yourself accountable by creating calendar reminders to help you achieve it. Schedule walk breaks or daily or weekly check-ins with your accountability buddy.

Declare it on social media. Telling your friends on social media that you’re cutting back on packaged foods, or sending a tweet every time you finish a class on your exercise bike creates virtual accountability. Commit to posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or another platform every time you complete a goal, or share your feelings on days you’re struggling. When you declare your goals on social media, you’re likely to find a like-minded friend who will want to join your journey and offer words of support.

The Challenge of Parenting While Watching a Mob Storm the Capitol

Parenting While Shocked

As the local grown-up, I don’t need to be responsible for fixing everything; helping my girls process their sense that everything seems broken is enough.

Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times
Lisa Damour

  • Jan. 7, 2021, 4:58 p.m. ET

Like many of us, I stood speechless yesterday as I watched rioters storm the nation’s Capitol. My daughters, ages 10 and 17, watched alongside me and were shocked, too. Feeling rattled and helpless, I wanted someone to look after me much more than I wanted to do any parenting myself.

As a psychologist, I’m used to staying levelheaded in chaotic situations. Last night was different; I was pretty much useless. I left my girls in the care of my calm and capable spouse, and spent the evening on the phone and then Twitter seeking assurance that order would be restored. I wanted the sense that there was, or would soon be, a grown-up in the room.

Today, I remembered: I am a grown-up in the room, at least around here. And focusing on that sphere is making it possible for me to join my husband in being the parent my daughters need and deserve.

I don’t need to be responsible for fixing everything; helping my girls process their sense that everything seems broken is enough. Over breakfast, I asked my 10-year-old what she was thinking about yesterday’s events and reassured her that, even though things got out of control, calmer heads have prevailed and I now feel hopeful that things might be moving in the right direction.

Being the grown-up in the room means making space for my girls’ confusion and their questions. Tonight, I will ask both of them what they heard from their teachers and classmates at school, what they wonder, what they think. I know that I won’t have all the answers to their questions, so I’ll just be honest about what I do and don’t know and everything I am still struggling to understand.

It means I have apologized for checking out last night. Had I alarmed them by reacting to yesterday’s chaos strongly or loudly, I would have apologized for that as well.

Being a grown-up means setting aside my misguided belief that compulsively checking social media or broadcast news reports will help me feel better. I have reminded myself that doing so only unsettles me and pulls me away from what I want to be present for: my kids, my spouse, my own work, myself.

It means that I need to be mindful of what media my daughters are taking in as events continue to unfold. My younger daughter gets most of her news from us or with us. We can and will limit her exposure to graphic images and frightening information. If there is something upsetting she needs to know, we should be the ones to tell her so that we can choose the right moment, share the news in age-appropriate language and be prepared to address her reaction.

My older daughter gets her news from us, with us, and also from a vast, complex and largely opaque-to-adults adolescent discourse that unfolds over social media. With her, we will do more listening than talking, seeking to make sure that she’s a critical consumer of what she’s taking in, that she’s working with facts and that she’s thinking for herself.

Yesterday, we watched TV news together as a family, pausing at one point to ask my younger daughter if the reports felt like too much. She insisted that they weren’t, and that she wanted to see what was happening. We deferred to what she knows about herself, and what we know about her and continued to watch together until we switched the television off to have dinner.

Trying to be an up-to-the-job parent as historical events unfold can leave us feeling doubly overwhelmed. Our own sense of, “Oh my God, what is happening?” quickly gives way to other worrisome questions: “How can I possibly explain all of this and fix it for my kids?”

Well, we can’t — at least not today. But to be good parents, we don’t need to. We just have to remind ourselves of the territory we control right now and be the grown-ups there.

How Teenagers Use Free Time Affects Mood

Adolescence

How Teens Use Downtime to Connect, Distract or Reflect

Different choices for how young people use free time lead to different kinds of relief.

Credit…Antonio Giovanni Pinna
Lisa Damour

By

  • Dec. 3, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

When pandemic-weary adolescents get to take a break, what should they do with themselves? The main aim, of course, should be to feel better after the break than before it. But different downtime choices lead to different kinds of relief. Adolescents (and adults) might want to reflect on the options for how they spend their free time — whether they’ve got 20 spare minutes today or can anticipate more unscheduled time in the weeks ahead.

Here’s a look at three ways teenagers tend to spend their downtime, and the particular benefits and challenges that come with each.

Connecting With the World Digitally

Young people often use their downtime to text with friends or check their social media accounts — and with good reason. Particularly under the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, teenagers rely on these platforms to connect with peers and to keep up with headlines. Spending time online might deliver the boost of an amusing exchange with a friend, a clever meme or good news about a favorite sports team. If it does, that makes for a restorative break.

But, of course, it can go another way.

Checking in on social media or the 24-hour news cycle is the psychological equivalent of sidling up to a slot machine. Hitting the jackpot — receiving digital love from a friend or finding an encouraging update about a vaccine — feels good. Pulling the lever and losing — whether that’s your messages being “left on read,” meaning the recipient doesn’t respond, or catching a depressing headline — is pretty much bound to happen from time to time.

For teenagers, especially in the context of the pandemic, turning to social media as a way to recharge can be a high-stakes gamble. Jill Walsh, a Boston University sociologist who studies technology use among adolescents, finds that having fewer in-person interactions has left many teenagers feeling “incredibly uncertain about their friendships.” Previously tolerable ambiguity in communications can now be highly distressing. Dr. Walsh notes that “getting a text that simply reads ‘k,’” — shorthand for OK that can be read as friendly, curt or angry — “can create a huge amount of emotional labor as a kid tries to figure out what it means.”

Before defaulting to downtime scrolling, teens might weigh the possibility of seeing a mood-lifting post against the chance that they’ll run into something distressing. A well-spent break should help to ease the mind; it shouldn’t open new tabs to worry over in our mental browsers.

Getting Lost in Distractions

There’s a lot to be said for taking occasional, all-consuming mental vacations, especially during a pandemic. Research on chronic stress shows that engrossing, happy distractions, such as competing in a sport or losing oneself in a movie or a book, can help young people weather persistently difficult circumstances.

Happy distractions may be a particularly apt choice when teenagers find themselves dogged by worries about school, peers, rising Covid-19 rates or anything else. Peggy Zoccola, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio University who studies the impact of stress and coping on the body, has found that ruminating over unpleasant events raises blood pressure and heart rate and triggers the ongoing release of stress hormones. Distraction, however, stops or attenuates the biological stress response. “It’s important,” she says, “to be able to recover and not always be pumping out these stress hormones.”

In fact, transporting diversions can be useful in two ways at once. According to Dr. Zoccola, they both draw our minds away from negative events that can trigger our biological stress response and at the same time pull them toward positive experiences that may prompt the release of natural mood-improving substances in the body that work much like opioids to help us feel better.

That said, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. While pleasant distractions provide valuable mental and physiological breaks from stressful conditions, “my hesitation with recommending distraction,” Dr. Zoccola said, “is that while it can get people out of the moment, if it goes on too long, that might prevent folks from addressing an issue, or might create a new one.” Teenagers can run an easy check for themselves by asking, “Are my distractions getting in the way of what I need to do?”

Creating Space for the Mind to Wander

As a third option, young people sometimes use openings in their schedule for pursuits that are engaging, but only to a degree. Researchers use the term “soft fascination” in connection with activities that require attention but don’t entirely occupy the mind, such as spending time in nature or taking a long shower. More absorbing endeavors, such as playing a video game or solving a puzzle, recruit what’s known as “hard fascination.”

Compared to hard fascination, soft fascination uses less mental bandwidth and leaves more room for the mind to wander and reflect. Avik Basu, an environmental psychologist at the University of Michigan who researches soft fascination, explains that activities that “don’t swamp the mind” are more likely to be restorative because “a softly fascinating environment allows for reflection — and that’s when the problem-solving part of our brains can really get to work.”

In other words, soft fascination relieves stress by helping us close those mental browser tabs; unhurried reflection lets us sift through mental clutter, quiet internal noise and come up with fresh, useful solutions. According to Dr. Basu, “the ‘aha’ moments you have in your shower — that’s the problem-solving mechanism of the mind working. The answer just bubbles up!”

Unfortunately, for many young people, the pandemic has swept away previously routine occasions for soft fascination. Indeed, many of us have come to appreciate how much mental housekeeping we used to do as we made our daily commute or walked along a familiar route to work or school. Teenagers might now have to go out of their way to seek low-key activities when their minds feel cluttered. And they may need adults’ encouragement to do so, because simply going for a stroll or looking out a window can seem boring compared to the allure of online catching up or consuming distractions.

When it comes to self-restoration, we all have options — with connection, distraction and reflection being chief among them. Caring for our mental and emotional health matters now even more than usual, so it’s essential for people of all ages to take the breaks that best address the needs of the moment.

Ways to Get Your Kids Moving

As any parent overseeing homeschool knows: Zoom P.E. is hardly a hard-driving Peloton class. It’s more like your kid lying on the floor of the living room doing halfhearted leg-lifts by the light of her laptop.

Many students, particularly tweens and teens, are not moving their bodies as much as they are supposed to be — during a pandemic or otherwise. (60 minutes per day for ages 6 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) A March 2020 report in The Lancet offers scientific evidence as to why your kids won’t get off the couch: As children move through adolescence, they indeed become more sedentary, which is associated with greater risk of depression by the age of 18. Being physically active is important for their physical health as well as mental health.

Yet with many organized team sports on hiatus and athletic fields, playgrounds and climbing gyms closed or restricted to smaller groups during shorter hours, what’s an increasingly lazy child to do? More accurately: What’s a mother or father of an increasingly lazy child to do?

Many parents are taking charge, finding informal and creative ways to entice their isolated tweens and teens off their screens and outside — with others, safely. To get your own younger ones moving, here are a few ideas from families around the country, all almost-guaranteed hits, even with winter coming.

A SENSE OF CAMARADERIE

Start a small running club.

Credit…Luci Gutiérrez

In San Francisco, under rain, fog or blue skies (or even the infamous orange one), a group of sixth graders have been gathering in Golden Gate Park two times a week to run two miles. Their unofficial motto: “Safe Distance, Minimal Distance.” Masks are required and photo breaks are frequent, as is post-run ice cream. Started on a whim by local parents in late-August, the club has been such a hit, attracting anywhere from six to 20 kids each run, that some occasionally call for a third afternoon per week, even a 7 a.m. before-school meet-up (in which case they serve doughnuts). But treats are not the ultimate draw.

“I like the experience of being with my peers and actually doing something, all at the same time,” 11-year-old Henry Gersick said. “Instead of just sitting there.”

IT’S COOL ON TIKTOK

Jump! Jump! Jump!

Credit…Luci Gutiérrez

One of the most accessible, inexpensive, socially distanced sports is something you may not even realize is a sport. Since the pandemic began, jump-roping has become “a TikTok craze,” according to Nick Woodard, a 14-time world-champion jump-roper and founder of Learnin’ the Ropes, a program designed to teach kids and adults the joy of jumping. “All you need is time, some space and a $5 jump rope, and you’re good to go,” Mr. Woodard said.

Based in Bowling Green, Ky., Mr. Woodard and his wife, Kaylee (a six-time world champion in her own right), have been leading virtual workshops for children as young as 6, from Malaysia to Germany. A 30-minute class costs $35 for one child, and includes spiderwalk warmups, instruction, and challenges. (How many jumps can you do in 30 seconds?)

“They have so much fun, they don’t even realize they’re getting exercise,” Ms. Woodard said. But a selling point right now is that jumping rope — unlike team sports — is something you can do together, apart.

A DOSE OF ADVENTURE

Take a hike with family and a friend.

Credit…Luci Gutiérrez

“My kids are reluctant to do anything outdoors, unless we’re meeting up with another family, then they’re totally into it!” said Ginny Yurich, founder of 1000 Hours Outside, a family-run Instagram account with over 112,000 followers that challenges youth to spend an average of 2.7 hours a day outdoors per year. “Make sure you have food, a first-aid kit and friends — friends are the linchpin,” she said. (Masks, too.)

Ms. Yurich, a Michigan mother of five, drags her children on day hikes, yes, but also on evening lantern-lit hikes, rainy hikes and snowy walks. She was inspired, she said, by the 2017 book “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather,” by the Swedish-American author-blogger Linda McGurk, who espouses the Scandinavian concept of friluftsliv, or “open-air living.” For Ms. Yurich and Ms. McGurk, experiencing the outdoors is paramount to children’s development and well-being.

If you prefer not to pod during the pandemic, follow the lead of Dave Rubenstein, a father of two in Lawrence, Kan., by enacting “Forced Family Fun Time.”

“We call it F.F.F.T.,” Mr. Rubenstein said of the weekly activity. “It usually involves a hike around the lake in town, but it could be any outdoor activity teenagers typically hate. And if they complain, the punishment is more F.F.F.T.”

EXPERIENCING COMMUNITY — AND FREEDOM

Form a friendly neighborhood bike gang.

Credit…Luci Gutiérrez

“Kids are biking like never before,” said Jon Solomon, a spokeman for the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, the nonprofit’s initiative to help build healthy communities through sports. Over the year, leisure bike sales grew 203 percent year over year, he said.

In one neighborhood in Denver, one neighbor has opened up a half-mile dirt bike track on his property to all the kids on the block. Wyatt Isgrig, 14, and his friends tackle it often by mountain bike, scooter or motorized dirt bike.

Ali Freedman, a mother of two in Boston’s Roslindale neighborhood, has loved watching children of all ages on her street playing together. “Every day around 3:30 p.m., kids we never knew before Covid come biking by our house asking ‘Can you play?’” Ms. Freedman said.

The young crew all wear masks — “Moms have a text thread going to check on enforcement when masks become chin diapers,” said Ms. Freedman, who peers out the window every so often — and best of all: “They stay out until dinner.”

CREATING SOMETHING NEW, TOGETHER

Invent your own game.

Credit…Luci Gutiérrez

In a September survey conducted by the Aspen Institute and Utah State University in response to the coronavirus pandemic, 71 percent of parents said “individual games” (like shooting baskets solo) were the form of sport with the highest comfort level for their kids, followed by classic neighborhood pickup games like basketball or tennis.

But inventing your own game has its own rewards. One otherwise boring day in suburban Maryland, Mr. Solomon and his son, 11, came up with something they call hock-ball. It involves a hockey stick and a tennis ball and an empty sidewalk or street.

Mr. Solomon attempted to explain. “You roll the tennis ball like a kickball — it could be smooth, or slow, or bouncy — and the person with the stick tries to hit it past the pitcher, then runs back and forth to home plate.” There are points and innings and it’s apparently fun for all ages. “Only problem is, the ball inevitably rolls under a parked car, ” Mr. Solomon said.

A (COLD) SURGE OF HOMETOWN PRIDE

Bundle up for snow yoga.

Credit…Luci Gutiérrez

In Milwaukee, where daily high temperatures in winter often hover below freezing, Kendra Cheng said her seventh grader will be doing much of the same as she did over the summer, only wearing more clothes: kickball, trampoline tag or even “water-skiing on land” — which calls for two kids, a broken hammer, a rope, and Rollerblades (or cross-country skis).

But the hot new thing in Ms. Cheng’s neighborhood, she said, will be snow yoga, led by a certified yogi friend. Once it starts snowing, 10 to 20 people will gather twice a week at a safe distance in a private backyard with a backdrop of Lake Michigan. “In Wisconsin, we love the cold,” Ms. Cheng said. “We love snowpants. We love barely being able to move because we have five layers on. And we’re all excited to do downward dog outdoors to create our sweat.”

If all else fails, bribe them.

Credit…Luci Gutiérrez

Pay your kid — a dollar, a quarter, a penny — per minute to walk the pandemic puppy you just got.

“It gets them out of the house and out of my hair — and they earn some money,” said Murray Isgrig, parent of Wyatt in Denver. “Even though they don’t have anywhere to spend it.”

It’s Time for a Digital Detox. (You Know You Need It.)

When is enough enough?

Even though the presidential election is over, we’re still doomscrolling through gloomy news about the coronavirus surge. The rest of your daily routine is probably something like mine while stuck at home in the pandemic: Divided among streaming movies on Netflix, watching home improvement videos on YouTube and playing video games. All of these activities involve staring at a screen.

There has to be more to life than this. With the holiday season upon us, now is a good time to take a breather and consider a digital detox.

No, that doesn’t mean quitting the internet cold turkey. No one would expect that from us right now. Think of it as going on a diet and replacing bad habits with healthier ones to give our weary eyes some much needed downtime from tech.

“There’s lots of great things to do online, but moderation is often the best rule for life, and it’s no different when it comes to screens,” said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and the author of “iGen,” a book about younger generations growing up in the smartphone era.

Too much screen time can take a toll on our mental health, depriving us of sleep and more productive tasks, experts said. I, for one, am experiencing this. Before the pandemic, my average daily screen time on my phone was three and a half hours. Over the last eight months, that has nearly doubled.

So I turned to psychology experts for their advice. From setting limits to finding alternatives to being glued to our phones, here’s what we can do.

Come Up With a Plan

Not all screen time is bad — after all, many students are attending school via videoconferencing apps. So Step One is assessing which parts of screen time feel toxic and make you unhappy. That could be reading the news or scrolling through Twitter and Facebook. Step Two is creating a realistic plan to minimize consumption of the bad stuff.

You could set modest goals, such as a time limit of 20 minutes a day for reading news on weekends. If that feels doable, shorten the time limit and make it a daily goal. Repetition will help you form new habits.

That’s easier said than done. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist and co-author of the book “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World,” recommended creating calendar events for just about everything, including browsing the web and taking breaks. This helps create structure.

For example, you could block off 8 a.m. to read the news for 10 minutes, and 20 minutes from 1 p.m. for riding the exercise bike. If you feel tempted to pick up your phone during your exercise break, you would be aware that any screen time would be violating the time you dedicated to exercise.

Most important, treat screen time as if it were a piece of candy that you occasionally allow yourself to indulge. Don’t think of it as taking a break as that may do the opposite of relaxing you.

“Not all breaks are created equal,” Dr. Gazzaley said. “If you take a break and go into social media or a news program, it can get hard to get out of that rabbit hole.”

Create No-Phone Zones

We need to recharge our phones overnight, but that doesn’t mean the devices need to be next to us while we sleep. Many studies have shown that people who keep phones in their bedrooms sleep more poorly, according to Dr. Twenge.

Smartphones are harmful to our slumber in many ways. The blue light from screens can trick our brains into thinking it’s daytime, and some content we consume — especially news — can be psychologically stimulating and keep us awake. So it’s best not to look at phones within an hour before bed. What’s more, the phone’s proximity could tempt you to wake up and check it in the middle of the night.

“My No. 1 piece of advice is no phones in the bedroom overnight — this is for adults and teens,” Dr. Twenge said. “Have a charging station outside the bedroom.”

Outside of our bedrooms, we can create other No-Phone Zones. The dinner table, for example, is a prime opportunity for families to agree to put phones away for at least 30 minutes and reconnect.

Resist the Hooks

Tech products have designed many mechanisms to keep us glued to our screens. Facebook and Twitter, for example, made their timelines so that you could scroll endlessly through updates, maximizing the amount of time you spend on their sites.

Adam Alter, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and author of the book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” said that tech companies employed techniques in behavioral psychology that make us addicted to their products.

He highlighted two major hooks:

  • Artificial goals. Similar to video games, social media sites create goals to keep users engaged. Those include the number of likes and followers we accrue on Facebook or Twitter. The problem? The goals are never fulfilled.

  • Friction-free media. YouTube automatically plays the next recommended video, not to mention the never-ending Facebook and Twitter scrolling. “Before there was a natural end to every experience,” like reading the last page of a book, he said. “One of the biggest things tech companies have done was to remove stopping cues.”

What to do? For starters, we can resist the hooks by making our phones less intrusive. Turn off notifications for all apps except those that are essential for work and keeping in touch with people you care about. If you feel strongly addicted, take an extreme measure and turn the phone to grayscale mode, Dr. Alter said.

There’s also a simpler exercise. We can remind ourselves that outside of work, a lot of what we do online doesn’t matter, and it’s time that can be better spent elsewhere.

“The difference between getting 10 likes and 20 likes, it’s all just meaningless,” Dr. Alter said.

For Teenagers, the Pleasure of ‘Likes’

Photo

Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Move over sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. For today’s teenager, it’s all about the “likes.”

A “like,” for the uninitiated, refers to the positive feedback given to a post on social media. And new research shows that likes appear to be somewhat intoxicating to teenagers. The same reward center in the brain that is involved in the sensation of pleasure and activated by thoughts of sex, money or ice cream also is turned on when teenagers see their photos getting a lot of likes on social media.

To learn more about what drives social media use among teenagers, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted a novel experiment in which they recreated a photo-sharing social network similar to Instagram. The paper was published in the journal Psychological Science.

To do the study, the researchers recruited 32 people ages 13 to 18 and told them they were participating in a small social network modeled after Instagram, where friends or followers can endorse an image or video by clicking on a heart-shape icon.

In the experiment, researchers asked the teenagers to contribute some of their own photos, and then had them come in to the lab to look at nearly 150 images – including fairly bland photos, images of risky behavior and some of the teens’ own photos – while scientists analyzed their brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging.

As part of the experiment, the teens could also see how many likes had been given to each photo. Although the researchers had assigned the likes as part of the experiment, the teenagers were given the impression that the endorsements came from their peers.

When the youngsters viewed images that had a lot of likes, there was greater activity in neural regions of the brain involved with reward processing, social cognition, imitation and attention, researchers said, compared with neural reactions when the teens looked at photos with fewer likes.

The effect was magnified when they saw an image they themselves had contributed which had received a large number of likes, researchers said.

Teenagers were more likely to give a like to an image that had already gotten dozens of likes, even if it was a fairly banal picture of a plate of food or a pair of sunglasses. They were less apt to like the same kind of image if it had gotten few likes.

While the experiment focused on only a small group, it seemed to capture peer pressure in real time. But peer pressure is not always a bad thing, said the paper’s lead author, Lauren Sherman, and may play a critical role in teens’ accrual of social and cultural knowledge that’s essential to their development.

“Conformity is part of adolescence, and some of it is normal,” said Ms. Sherman, who prefers the term “peer influence” to “peer pressure.” “It’s how teenagers learn the rules of how to communicate and how to develop relationships.”

When the adolescents viewed images suggesting risky behavior (such as a bag of marijuana or pack of cigarettes), they were still influenced by their peers’ likes, but to a lesser extent, Ms. Sherman said. The researchers also did not see the same activation of the brain reward center, although they don’t know why. Teenagers viewing risky photos also exhibited decreased activity in brain regions involved in cognitive control and response inhibition, the regions that Ms. Sherman described as those that “put the brakes on, that tell us to be careful.”

Kate Mills, a postdoctoral fellow in developmental cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oregon, agreed. “Peer pressure gets bad press when peers are influential in a negative direction, but peers can also be influential in a good way,” Dr. Mills said. “The wonderful thing about our reward circuitry is that it’s not just involved with things we think of as hedonistically pleasurable. This is a circuitry that’s involved in learning about the environment.”

The likes are “potentially serving as a social cue, orienting them to what is cool or socially appropriate,” Ms. Sherman said. “Learning about the social world is a really important task of adolescence.”

Ready, Set, Hold That Pose! Have Smartphones Ruined Racing?

Photo

A racer poses for a selfie at the 13-mile marker of the Big Sur International Marathon.

A racer poses for a selfie at the 13-mile marker of the Big Sur International Marathon.Credit Courtesy of the Big Sur International Marathon

At a recent 5K in Boston, I got off to an aggravatingly sluggish start. I couldn’t get going, not really, because runners around me took pictures and videos of themselves beginning the race. Then I nearly barreled into a runner who came to a dead stop to take a picture of the pros who had started the race waves ahead of us as they came across the finish. When I reached the point in the race that crosses over the finish line to the Boston Marathon, where an announcer repeated loudly over and over that runners should not stop to take selfies, two runners just ahead of me did anyway, mucking up the path of the runners behind them. I snapped and yelled, loudly, “Just run!”

I’ve been running for 10 years, and there have always been inconsiderate racers who do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want. But with the advent of smartphones, such incidents have blossomed.

Smartphones can be powerful running tools: They track your progress and location, play your music and podcasts, and can serve as a safety device in case you get lost or need assistance. Race officials have also created apps to keep runners up to date with what’s going on during race weekend or, in the case of an emergency, during the race itself.

But smartphones have also become social media spouts for runners to take selfies, FaceTime a family member on a crowded course, or chat on the phone in the middle of a race, oblivious to the people behind and around them.

According to Running USA, a nonprofit group that tracks data and trends on running, 61 percent of runners regularly run with a cellphone, most commonly to play music, track mileage and workouts, map routes and use GPS features. The group found that millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to run with their cellphones, and also most likely to use social media channels to share running-related activities.

Photo

Racers pose for a photo as they run the Big Sur International Marathon.

Racers pose for a photo as they run the Big Sur International Marathon.Credit Courtesy of the Big Sur International Marathon

“Tech is just such an important part of sport in general, whether it’s nutrition, training information, event information, fitness tracking — there’s so many uses or applications for technology now,” said Rich Harshbarger, the chief executive of Running USA.

While he knows that this can cause some friction in races, he sees social media as having helped the sport. “It has made the sport more accessible, less intimidating, and I think it encourages participation,” he said. That finish line photo, or sharing a training run on Twitter, can help runners find others who are doing similar events, and encourage them to train or run a race together. Seeing people just like you doing this thing they love can also inspire you to try it too.

While race directors are embracing the technology to enhance their events, they are also coming up with creative ways to deal with the downside of smartphones.

Many runners elect to take on the grueling hills of the Big Sur International Marathon because of its breathtaking views along the coast of California. The marathon’s race director, Doug Thurston, knows that most will be taking pictures during the race.

“I don’t think you could ever” ban runners from taking photos, he said. “And I don’t think you want to do that.” He just wants runners to do so safely, and to be considerate of others on the course.

The Big Sur marathon’s safety rules specifically ask runners to move “to the far left side of the road or the dirt shoulder before taking pictures.” The course also has designed mile markers with ample space around them where people can stop to take pictures.

“We have iconic images on our course, and that’s what we’re known for,” Mr. Thurston said. “We encourage people to document and catalog their experiences. But we encourage them to do it safely, with minimal effects to other participants.”

In 2014, after a series of much publicized incidents, including one woman who ran the New York City Half Marathon snapping selfies at every mile with a different man in the background of each picture, the New York Road Runners added a section to their code of conduct under the label “Mobile Devices” that says using smartphones for pictures and social media updates during any of their races is “strongly discouraged, as it decreases your awareness of other participants around you.” They have also banned selfie sticks entirely from races.

“It’s part of the changing landscape of what’s going on here and in the world. It’s an evolution,” said Peter Ciaccia, president of events for the New York Road Runners and race director of the New York City Marathon. “We don’t want to be the run police. We want everybody to come out and have a good time, and the message we keep driving home is that everyone should be respectful of each other and be aware of what’s going on around them.”

Mr. Harshbarger of Running USA, who spends a lot of time in airports while traveling for his job, points out that the problem isn’t limited to races. If “someone is walking in the middle of the airport terminal texting and weaving all over, I want to ask, ‘Can you just get out of the way, because I have a connection?’”

Or, as I might yell, “Just move!”

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.”

Related:

Interested in running? Sign up to receive practical tips, expert advice, exclusive content and a bit of motivation delivered to your inbox every week to help you on your running journey.

Phone-Sick at Camp

Photo

A camper writing a letter at Camp Walden in Diamond Point, N.Y.

A camper writing a letter at Camp Walden in Diamond Point, N.Y.Credit

Leaving for sleepaway camp is, for many children, a major step toward independence. Today, when cellphones keep parents and children in nearly constant contact, the fact that most camps have phone-free policies makes breaking away even more of a challenge.

“Camp-age kids, by even 10 or 11, are used to texting and being in frequent contact with their parents,” said Christopher Thurber, a clinical psychologist who focuses on youth development and summer camp. “How we communicate has changed the nature of attachment, and it complicates the separation that kids and parents go through,” he said.

According to a Pew Research Center study, teenagers send and receive an average of 67 texts per day. Kids are on their phones in school, in restaurants, on vacations and even in bed. For many, sleepaway camp remains one of the last oases, largely untouched by technology.

Yalda T. Uhls, author of “Media Moms & Digital Dads” and a child development expert with Common Sense Media, conducted a study showing that sixth graders who spent just five days at a tech-free sleepaway camp developed greater understanding of real-world interpersonal communication cues, including a better ability to read facial expressions, make eye contact, and interpret tone of voice and other prompts, such as posture and keeping an appropriate spatial distance with others.

“Camp is a sacred space to unplug and be able to learn independence and social skills,” Dr. Uhls said. “It’s really important to put devices down and practice the art of face-to-face communication.”

Putting down the phone can be at least as hard for the parents, who are often anxious about separating from their children and are used to constant check-ins, whether they are in the next state or the next room. We may complain that our children are always on the phone but “the reality is that we want that instant access to our children,” Dr. Uhls said.

Corey Dockswell, the director of Camp Wicosuta, a girls’ camp in Hebron, N.H., said the no-phone rule can be tough for parents. “They’ll say, ‘I’m used to talking to her all the time,’” she said. “It’s a steep learning curve for them.”

When Carrie Irvin, president of a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., decided to send her two daughters to Wicosuta, it was a difficult transition. “I have a really hard time dialing it back but I needed it. It was so important for them and our relationship, and I’m grateful that camp made me do it,” she said.

With this constant communication, children seek their parents’ guidance and emotional support even when they are not together, leaving fewer opportunities to develop their own confidence and internal compass for decision-making. Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and the author of the parenting book “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” tells the story of a college student at a salad bar who texted her mother to ask if she liked ranch dressing, rather than testing it herself. Such dependent relationships can rob children of the chance to trust and believe in someone else besides their parents. Creating bonds with others is one of the most important benefits of camp, and it is more likely to happen without the electronic connection to home.

At Camp Walden in Diamond Point, N.Y., “we talk about phones all the time. It’s a huge change in their life,” said Lauren Bernstein, the owner and director. And campers aren’t the only ones unplugging. Counselors and staff members are allowed to use phones only during their time off, so campers rarely even see a cellphone. “It’s important that our entire team live like the kids do,” she said. “Camp is a different world, and we want to keep it that way.”

But many camps are using workarounds, sending a daily email blast and photos of children engaging in camp activities, for example. Some also allow parents to email campers daily – printing out the messages and distributing them to campers at mail time.

To prepare to detach for camp, Dr. Thurber recommends families try one tech-free day per week over the month before camp, with no recreational screen time. “It’s good to practice some withholding from real-time digital communication and learn to not reflexively reach for cellphones,” he said.

Children and parents can get ready by drafting practice letters or journal entries with a bit more of a narrative than the brief, immediate social media contact they are used to. Counsel your child on using an appropriate greeting and sign-off and writing with adjectives that actually describe how they’re feeling rather than using emojis. The goal is to arrive at camp with those new skills in place.

Some kids say unplugging from social media is a relief. Sofia Jacobson, 12, who attends Camp Walden, said, “I love having a break from it. It’s nice to let go and not have to think about what anyone else is doing.”

Finally, parents can help their children and themselves by shifting their mind-set and creating positive expectations for cutting the electronic umbilical cord. Rather than seeing a break from technology as some sort of punishment, view it as an opportunity to be present, nurture relationships and be creative.

“The single most important fact about sleepaway camp is that children are away from their parents, where they experience their camp as their own, their camp friends as their own, and the experience as their own,” said Michael Thompson, the author of “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.”

He added, “You cannot ever fully experience things as your own when your mother is looking over your shoulder, actually or electronically.”


Sign up for the Well Family newsletter to get the latest news on parenting, child health and relationships with advice from our experts to help every family live well.

Yoga for the Showoff. Namaste.

Photo

Practicing handstands at Pure Yoga. “You will never be more focused than when you are upside down,” said Kiley Holliday, an instructor.

Practicing handstands at Pure Yoga. “You will never be more focused than when you are upside down,” said Kiley Holliday, an instructor.Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Chip Foley has competed in 50 triathlons, but now he’s turning his focus upside down. “My ultimate goal is to be able to do a handstand and hold it for 30 seconds,” he said.

To achieve the feat, he is pursuing a rigorous training regimen: attending daily classes at Lyons Den Power Yoga, a studio in TriBeCa that specializes in hot yoga; studying handstand videos on YouTube; and doing core-strengthening exercises at home four or five times a week. “I’m obsessed with it,” said Mr. Foley, 38, who spends his right-side-up time as the owner of a Manhattan-based technology consulting firm.

Why the fixation? Social media could be the culprit. Sarah Turk, a lead analyst with IBISWorld, a market research firm, said yoga poses lent themselves to showing off. And Instagram has the numbers to support that statement: The hashtag “yogaeverydamnday” has racked up over five million posts; #handstand and #handstands, over 400,000.

“There’s a level of badassness to it,” said Metta Murdaya, 41, who has been working on her handstand for the past two years. Ms. Murdaya, co-founder of JUARA Skincare, said her inversion practice made her feel more confident, fearless and focused, which she channels into her work as an entrepreneur.

“Literally, you succeed because you refuse to fail,” she said.

The rise of the inversion comes with the rise of the yoga and Pilates industry in the United States, which brought in an estimated $9.1 billion in 2015, according to an IBISWorld report prepared by Ms. Turk. A Yoga in America study recently found that the number of yoga students increased to 36 million in 2016 from 20.4 million in 2012.

Owners of trendy studios that have cropped up to meet New Yorkers’ demands for new ways to practice yoga, like Lyons Den, Pure Yoga and Y7 Studio, said that they had noticed an uptick in requests for inversion workshops and time devoted to handstands and headstands in class. Y7, which holds yoga classes set to pop and hip-hop music in rooms heated by infrared light, has already held four sold-out, two-hour inversion workshops this year, said Sarah Larson Levey, a founder of the studio.

Photo

“There’s a level of badassness to it,” said Metta Murdaya, 41, who has been working on her handstand for the past two years.

“There’s a level of badassness to it,” said Metta Murdaya, 41, who has been working on her handstand for the past two years.Credit Juara Skincare

Kiley Holliday, who teaches at Pure Yoga and Equinox in Manhattan, says handstands are popular among her students because of the feeling of accomplishment they experience when they are finally able to do them.

Inversions help students be present in the moment, a perennial objective among yogis, she added. “You will never be more focused than when you are upside down,” Ms. Holliday said. “It is impossible to think of anything else than what you are doing.”

The danger, of course, is taking a tumble, which for many is a rite of passage. “We all fall,” said Lauren Abramowitz, 39, founder of Park Avenue Skin Solutions, who has posted pictures of herself online in an advanced-level scorpion pose (a handstand with a backbend). “It’s not a matter of if, it’s how do you get back up.”

Dr. Gregory Galano, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital, said he often saw patients with yoga-related injuries. “Doing repetitive or long-lasting handstands can lead to everything from low-grade wrist sprains and tendinitis to more serious labral tears in the shoulder,” he said.

He recommends that people slowly work up to more challenging poses. “You want to do things in a controlled and safe manner,” Dr. Galano said.

Photo

Instagram users show off their poses.

Instagram users show off their poses.Credit From left: Melissa Perlzweig, Lauren Abramowitz and Elina Lin

To that end, the trainer Kira Stokes prepares students for handstands with a variety of core-strengthening moves in her Stoked 360 class at BFX Studio, the studio brand of New York Sports Clubs, owned by Town Sports International. One of her favorite exercises, a pike on a stability ball that involves bringing the hips over the shoulders, also helps improve shoulder stability and balance.

“Its more than a good party trick,” Ms. Stokes said of achieving a handstand. “It takes strength, balance, coordination and body awareness — all in one move.” She likes to do them, she said, because the practice “boosts my energy and is great for the circulatory system.”

For those who are starting out, just propping your legs against a wall and breathing deeply can give you some of the same energy-boosting benefits, said Sally Melanie Lourenco, a yoga and meditation teacher. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable flipping their world upside down.”

EMAIL: fitcity@nytimes.com

Related:

For more fitness, food and wellness news, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for our newsletter.

Why Do Girls Tend to Have More Anxiety Than Boys?

Photo

Credit iStock

The laid-back, underachieving boy; the hyperachieving, anxious girl. Over the three decades since I graduated from medical school, and especially over the past 10 years, this pattern has become increasingly common in my practice.

In one case, which is pretty typical, my patient’s parents are concerned about their son. He’s not working hard at school and his grades are sliding. At 16, he spends most of his free time playing video games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, or surfing the Web for pictures of girls. He’s happy as a clam.

Both parents are actually quite proud of their 14-year-old daughter, who is a straight-A student, an athlete and has many friends. But when I met with her, she told me that she isn’t sleeping well. She wakes up in the middle of the night, feeling remorseful about having eaten a whole slice of pizza for dinner. She often has shortness of breath. Recently she has begun cutting herself with razor blades, on her upper inner thigh where her parents won’t see. She hasn’t told her parents any of this. On the surface, she is the golden girl. Inside, she is falling apart.

Why is it that girls tend to be more anxious than boys?

It may start with how they feel about how they look. Some research has shown that in adolescence, girls tend to become more dissatisfied with their bodies, whereas boys tend to become more satisfied with their bodies. Another factor has to do with differences in how girls and boys use social media. A girl is much more likely than a boy to post a photo of herself wearing a swimsuit, while the boy is more likely to post a photo where the emphasis is on something he has done rather than on how he looks. If you don’t like Jake’s selfie showing off his big trophy, he may not care. But if you don’t like Sonya’s photo of herself wearing her bikini, she’s more likely to take it personally.

Imagine another girl sitting in her bedroom, alone. She’s scrolling through other girls’ Instagram and Snapchat feeds. She sees Sonya showing off her new bikini; Sonya looks awesome. She sees Madison at a party, having a blast. She sees Vanessa with her adorable new puppy. And she thinks: I’m just sitting here in my bedroom, not doing anything. My life sucks.

Boys are at lower risk for the toxic effects of social media than girls are, for at least three reasons. First, boys are less likely to be heavily invested in what you think of their selfies. “Does this swimsuit make me look fat?” is a question asked by girls more often than by boys. Second, boys tend to overestimate how interesting their own life is. Third, the average boy is likely to spend more time playing video games than Photoshopping his selfie for Instagram. And in video games, unlike social media, everybody truly can be a winner, eventually. If you play Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty long enough, you will, sooner or later, complete all the missions, if you just keep at it.

Parents can’t easily change any of those factors. You can’t easily get a girl to be less concerned about her looks; or to overestimate how interesting her own life is; or to care more about completing all the missions in Grand Theft Auto than about how many likes she’s getting on Instagram (nor is it clear that this last change, even if accomplished, would be a change for the better). So what can you do, to improve the odds for your daughter?

If your daughter is the girl sitting in her bedroom looking at other girls’ social media, maybe she shouldn’t be in her bedroom at all. In the typical American household today, when kids go home, they go to their bedrooms and aren’t seen again except perhaps for meals. That’s crazy. A family can’t be a family if the kids spend more time alone in their bedrooms than with their family members. Insist that your daughter, or son, do whatever they’re doing online in a public space: in the kitchen or the living room. There should be nothing in the bedroom except a bed: no TV, no PlayStation, no screens. That’s the official recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Another suggestion: fight for suppertime. And don’t allow phones at the table. In a 2013 Canadian survey of kids across a range of backgrounds, those who had more meals with parents were much less likely to have been feeling sad, anxious or lonely. They were more likely to help others and more likely to report being satisfied with their own lives. But be mindful of what you say at the table. Discussions of poor grades or disappointing test scores are out of bounds. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Of course. The origin of the universe and the meaning of life? Certainly. But the personal shortcomings of your child are, as a rule, not appropriate suppertime conversation in a loving family.

A third suggestion: No headsets and no earbuds in the car. When your child is in the car with you, you should be listening to her and she should be listening to you – not to Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus or Akon or Eminem. Teach the art of face-to-face conversation. Or play a word game. Or have the whole family sing a song. Or make up a limerick, as my family and I did last night. It sounds corny, but it helps.

If your daughter is not sleeping at night, or is cutting herself with razor blades, then limericks at the dinner table are not likely to be a sufficient cure. I do prescribe medication, cautiously and judiciously, for the clinically anxious girl. There is also a role for professional counseling, alongside or sometimes in place of medication. Regardless, medication should never be the most important part of the treatment. The most important part of the treatment is to prioritize the family, to give your child a secure grounding in a loving home.

Leonard Sax is a psychologist and a practicing family physician in West Chester, Pa., and the author, most recently, of “The Collapse of Parenting.”

Related:

For more fitness, food and wellness news, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for our newsletter.

Don’t Post About Me on Social Media, Children Say

Photo

Credit Getty Images

Recently, university researchers asked children and parents to describe the rules they thought families should follow related to technology.

In most cases, parents and children agreed — don’t text and drive; don’t be online when someone wants to talk to you. But there was one surprising rule that the children wanted that their parents mentioned far less often: Don’t post anything about me on social media without asking me.

As in, no pictures of them asleep in the back of the car. No posts about their frustration with their homework. That victory picture after the soccer game? Maybe. The frustrated rant about the fight you just had over laundry? No way.

The answers revealed “a really interesting disconnect,” said Alexis Hiniker, a graduate student in human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington who led the research. She, along with researchers at the University of Michigan, studied 249 parent-child pairs distributed across 40 states and found that while children ages 10 to 17 “were really concerned” about the ways parents shared their children’s lives online, their parents were far less worried. About three times more children than parents thought there should be rules about what parents shared on social media.

Sites like Facebook and Instagram are now baked into the world of today’s families. Many, if not most, new parents post images of their newborn online within an hour of birth, and some parents create social media accounts for the children themselves — often to share photos and news with family, although occasionally in the pursuit of “Instafame” for their fashionably clad, beautifully photographed sons and daughters.

With the first babies of Facebook (which started in 2004) not yet in their teens and the stylish kids of Instagram (which started in 2010) barely in elementary school, families are just beginning to explore the question of how children feel about the digital record of their earliest years. But as this study, although small, suggests, it’s increasingly clear that our children will grow into teenagers and adults who want to control their digital identities.

“As these children come of age, they’re going to be seeing the digital footprint left in their childhood’s wake,” said Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor and associate director of the Center on Children and Families at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. “While most of them will be fine, some might take issue with it.”

Some children and teenagers question both past and present sharing. “I really don’t like it when my parents post pictures of me on their social media accounts, especially after finding out that some of my friends follow them,” said Maisy Hoffman, 14, an eighth grader who lives in Manhattan. “I worry more about my dad. He doesn’t always ask if he can post things, so I immediately turn away and ask if he’s going to post it. Or I’ll find out later because my friend saw something of me on his Instagram and I’ll have to ask him to take it down.”

Other parents can also present a problem for the child who prefers to control how she appears online. Wendy Bradford, a mother of three elementary-school aged children in Manhattan, said that when parent chaperones took pictures during a third-grade field trip to the zoo, her daughter “hid when she saw the phones because she didn’t want the pictures to be posted on Facebook with her in them.”

Isabella Aijo, 15, a high school sophomore in Natick, Mass., said, “I definitely know people who have parents who post things they wish weren’t out there. There was a girl in my eighth grade class whose mom opened a YouTube account for her in the fourth grade to show off her singing,” she wrote to me in an email. “Finally, on one of the last months of middle school, a peer played the song in class and almost the entire class laughed hysterically over it.”

Those early posts from parents linger, not just online, but in our children’s memories — and the topics may be things we don’t see as potentially embarrassing. The son of a friend (who asked that I not use her name) still brings up things she wrote about his picky eating when he was younger — years ago, she says.

But that kind of sharing — about food issues, potty training and tantrums — is exactly the kind of sharing that can be valuable. “Children benefit from the community created when parents have the ability to share their stories,” said Ms. Steinberg. Those posts about picky eating might have helped my friend find solutions, or a fresh wellspring of patience for a behavior her child would eventually outgrow.

When parents share those early frustrations, they don’t see themselves as exposing something personal about their children’s lives, but about their own. As a society, says Ms. Steinberg, “we’re going to have to find ways to balance a parent’s right to share their story and a parent’s right to control the upbringing of their child with a child’s right to privacy.

“Parents often intrude on a child’s digital identity, not because they are malicious, but because they haven’t considered the potential reach and the longevity of the digital information that they’re sharing,” said Ms. Steinberg.

In general, said Sarita Schoenebeck, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, who co-authored the research, both children and parents considered positive images, events and news more appropriate to share than negative ones. Parents can consider, too, the searchability and reach of the format (although those are always evolving). A frustrated tweet about a child who won’t eat her cereal because it’s not in a red bowl is a lot less likely to resurface than a YouTube video of the resulting tantrum. Looking for advice or sympathy about a behavioral problem? Skip both the image, and your child’s name, in a post to limit later searches.

At our house, I sometimes see the hesitation in my oldest son, who is 14, when I bring out the camera at a goofy moment, but we have a whole house rule: no sharing images of anyone else without their consent, ever. That trust means I get my candid shots, and he keeps his digital identity, whatever he eventually wants it to be, intact.

Interested in more Well Family? Sign up to get the latest news on parenting, child health and relationships plus advice from our experts to help every family live well.