Influential teens. “It may look glamorous and like a quick buck, but…”.

Social media pressure, depression, isolation? How bad are teens really? The two documentaries “Girl Gang” and “Anxious Nation” were circulating among young people.

Leoni has achieved what many teens dream of: Berliner is an influencer with 1.6 million followers on Instagram. Companies shower them with clothes, makeup, and sneakers. She is popular as a pop star by her loyal fans.

Upon closer examination, her life is nothing but a pony farm. This is evident from the documentary “Girl Gang” by Susan Regina Morris (“Raving Iran”, “Saudi Fugitive”).

The director from Zurich accompanied the teenage star with her camera for four years. “It may look charming and like quick money on the outside, but I can reassure anxious parents: It’s not easy to become an influencer,” emphasizes Meyers.

“It’s not a job you just do, you have to work hard for it.” Leonie should also have space for school, friends and soccer three times a week.

Pros and cons of the effect

Bringing your life to the masses authentically with photos and videos is challenging—and it has both advantages and disadvantages. “On the one hand, there are all the events and trips that gave Leonie an exceptional young man, and on the other hand, she also had to deal with a lot of criticism and sometimes hate on the Internet,” says the director.

It soon becomes clear: Leonie needs support. Parents are looking for managers and agencies, but in the end there was no one who wanted to entrust their 14-year-old daughter for the long term.

So they take over the management themselves. A recipe for friction. In this case, says Susan Regina Morris, it’s a good decision despite the potential for conflict: “If her parents need to remind Leonie that a post is due to be uploaded, it’s a bit like deciding to play the piano and encouraging her should become a practice. Don’t sit on the keys with the same ecstasy every time.”

The documentary filmmaker spoke to over 160 girls from the Berlin region in 2017. She wanted to know what worries girls aged 12-14 and what makes them read.

He didn’t lift a finger

Morris finally chose Leoni for the film, who was 14 at the time, had 500,000 followers and had big ambitions: “I knew something was going to happen. Either you retire or you become a star. It was important to me that the movie didn’t come out with a finger. A raised index finger. I leave the reflection of the spirit of the times to the audience.”

As Leonie becomes a star, on the other side of the phone screen is her superhero fan Melanie, who feels misunderstood in the real world and spends hours browsing her feed. Melanie is immersed in the illusory world of Leonie – and shares the full emotional spectrum from joy to death of grief.

“Teenage sadness” is what Susan Morris calls: “She had problems and friends with the same interests. She found this in the internet community for a year or two, which is positive for her.” In the meantime, she has new interests and less time for Yoni. She rarely uses Melanie Social Media: “This cultural pessimism, that social media is only pushing us into the abyss, is untrue.”

Same problem in the United States

Is Generation Z only experiencing the pain of puberty, or is there more to it? On the other side of the Atlantic, Laura Morton and Vanessa Roth, co-directors of the documentary “Anxious Nation,” point the camera at young people’s sensibilities and sound the alarm.

“Social media is one aspect of a difficult world in which our children live and it is something new to us parents. “In this respect, we lack the tools to help our children,” says Vanessa Roth.

So Laura Morton, whose daughter Sephie was the inspiration for the film, calls for mental health to be treated the same way she treats physical health: “In the United States, only 5 percent of health care costs are spent on self, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. Plus. In addition, psychological problems are criminalized: if you have a heart attack on the street, the ambulance will come. If you are mentally assaulted, the police will come.” The largest mental institution in the United States is like a prison.

The filmmakers were able to win Kathy Ireland as a supporter: “I’ve been on the school board for 25 years, co-founded a school myself and been involved in mentorship programs around the world for 30 years,” says the former model.

“But I have never seen this level of depression, anxiety and panic among young people like today. I don’t know of any family that has not been affected.” With the film, the trio primarily wants to signal to other families that they are not alone.

And she wants to make social media companies more responsible: “If you watch something about depression on TikTok, the algorithm feeds you more and more material about it, which has a negative impact,” explains Morton. Social media companies have to correct this. As a mother, I can vouch that my daughter changes when she doesn’t look at her cell phone for too long. She is noticeably less enthusiastic and calmer. She’s slowly realizing this and she’s more careful about what she’s looking at.”

The pandemic has accelerated the need for more action: In 2021, the suicide rate among 15-24-year-olds in the United States rose by 8%. In early 2022, Public Health Services Chief Vivek Murthy warned of a mental health crisis among young people.

Do you need regular checkups?

Additional psychological support services, especially for youth, are now being discussed in Congress. Roth and Morton advocate mental exams by a specialist at the pediatrician or at school. Laura Morton: “Just as growth, weight, and other stages of development have been examined, we must also clarify our emotional state regularly.”

And how is it in Europe? During her interviews with the actors, Susan Morris discovered that some girls are undergoing treatment, receiving psychotropic substances or have already been treated in a clinic.

She dares to doubt whether that’s always in favor: “We tend to be an over-psychic society, but I can imagine it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between pubertal hormone fluctuations and actual panic attacks.”

“Girl Gang” is currently in cinemas.


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