Being 13

Addi and a friend are in the backseat of a car. Addi is holding an iPhone, showing it to her friend, and laughing.

By Jessica Bennett Sept. 20, 2023 New York Times

As eighth grade began, Anna was worried that she wasn’t very popular because her parents wouldn’t let her on Snapchat. London had a tough couple of days; she had been sent to the principal’s office for lashing out at a girl who had been mean to her by sending a text impersonating a boy that girl liked. And when Addi’s school had a lockdown later in the year, she spent the evening decompressing with her sister, reenacting a TikTok sketch — her mind far from the flashing police lights that had reflected in the windows.

Anna, London and Addi — three girls from three states, who, at 13, were legally able to join social media, and whose cellphones were always close at hand.

I started following them a year ago, after they responded to an open call for teenagers who’d let a reporter into their lives and phones. With their parents’ permission, they each wrote weekly diaries and recorded voice memos about their days (except when they were grounded). The girls’ last names have been withheld to protect their privacy, but all of the images and text messages you see here are real.

I wanted to put a face to the alarmingheadlinesabout teensandsocial media — in particular, girls. And to understand one tension: What happens when girls’ self-confidence, which has been shown to drop right around this age, intersects with the thing that seems to be obviously contributing to their struggle?

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