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1. The One with the Close Friends

What it is: Instagram’s “Close Friends” feature remains a popular draw, even as the app loses appeal amongst some younger users.
Why it keeps users from leaving Instagram: When a user posts to their stories and applies the Close Friends filter, it limits who can see the post to an extremely select group of that user’s followers. Some people use this feature exclusively for every story that they post. Close Friends content feels like whispering a secret to your besties at the lunch table (or as one source told the Atlantic, it feels public, but also, safe). Teens see taking and sharing a screenshot from a story meant for Close Friends is a breach of trust. You can edit who is on your Close Friends list in real time, which means you can share a post complaining about someone named Beth and, 24 hours later, pop Beth into your Close Friends list without her being any wiser. Parents should understand that if they never see an IG story from the teens in their life, it could mean they’re only using Close Friends to share with their inner circle.

2. Brainfeelin’ Along

What it is: A song or sound byte can trend on TikTok within hours of getting used for the first time. The New York Times investigates what goes into a viral earworm.
Why it makes TikTok super addictive: Something that sets TikTok apart from other social media platforms is the way that the video app incorporates sound. Other platforms were borne out of a silent scrolling experience that you could have with your device on mute. On TikTok, the silent scroll doesn’t offer the dopamine-hit of recognizing a clip of your favorite music video or hearing a sitcom clip in a new context. TikTokers love to jump into the comments of a post and simply type out the sounds that give them pleasure from a clip. (Technically, this can be called orthographic rendering). Sounds that are neurologically pleasing are hard to predict, they just happen. But the “brainfeel” of a sound that’s got viral potential is recognizable to anyone who has spent more than a few hours on the app.

3. Back to School Necklace

What it is: A dark way that some teens are alluding to not wanting to go back to school.
Why you should be aware of this phrase: The phrase “back to school necklace” is a euphemism for a particular way of ending one’s own life. Students filled with anxiety around classwork, bullies, school violence, or a combination of all of these may find themselves wishing they could just bypass the whole back-to-school thing. Although some teens who use this phrase will only be doing so in jest, Doreen Marshall recommends looking at a teen’s talk, behavior, and mood altogether to help determine whether they might be in need of serious emotional support.

Song of the Week

Nicki Minaj, “Super Freaky Girl”: The latest single from the rap superstar has already hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and gained upwards of 50 million views on TikTok. The song samples the Rick James hit “Superfreak,” and Minaj hyped the song by tweeting about it with the portmanteau #NickJames. The song is celebratory and triumphant as Minaj raps mostly about herself, and her bedroom prowess. (At least she’s also proud of her “samurai mind.”) As you can probably guess, the song is extremely explicit, with graphic references to sex throughout and repeated in the chorus.

Translation: The One with the Close Friends

Despite Instagram’s waning popularity, the Close Friends feature is a helpful way of reducing what Elia Powers calls “context collapse.” Context collapse is the idea that on social media, there’s a flattening of multiple audiences into one space. “It’s akin to being at a wedding and giving a speech to friends, parents, in-laws, and people you don’t know,” Elia says. In this way, “Close Friends” is actually a step toward how human interactions used to work: they were interactions whose meaning depended upon context and history with individual people, not onstage broadcasts for thousands of people simultaneously.

The appeal of a feature like Close Friends is that it taps into the reality that we can never have 100% understanding from every person in our lives. Some might argue that it would be better to be the kind of person who only says and does what everyone else would consider to be equally agreeable all of the time. And while ethical consistency is important, even Jesus had an inner circle to whom he revealed himself more fully than he did to the others. There were only 12 men known as His “disciples.” Of those 12 men, only Peter, James, and John got to see His transfiguration.

Although Jesus clearly had love for all people, and asked the same of his followers, on Earth he did not disclose himself equally to all people. In the same way, it’s natural for human beings to have confidantes and close friends, although it may look different depending on your teen’s circumstances.

Here are some questions to help open up conversation about friendship:

  • Is the idea of having “close friends” or a best friend automatically exclusive of other people?
  • Have you ever felt like you were “wasting” a joke or a comment by only sharing it with one person?
  • What do you think about the idea that it’s better to be “the kind of person who only says and does what everyone would consider to be equally agreeable all of the time”?