I am a therapist and a parent. I did not grow up online. I did not have a cell phone in high school. I got my first computer in my Sophomore year, but it was not connected to the internet. I am somewhere on the borderline between digital natives and digital immigrants.
This week I had the privilege of sitting on a panel presentation about “Growing Up Online” at a local high school. There was some great dialogue between counselors, parents and teens. I want to share some thoughts with you from my perspective as a therapist and a parent.
Technology and the internet is neutral. The tools are neither good or bad, however the key is how we use them and what we teach our kids. Here are some trends, concerns and practical ideas.
These are the trends that I am seeing
Teens are still using Facebook, but they are becoming increasingly active on other platforms such as Instagram, Tumblr & Reddit. This is mostly because they want increased privacy and an online space where their parents and other adults are not monitoring them. A recent USAToday article compared Facebook to a chaperoned school dance.
YouTube is still a teen favorite. Teens use it for self-expression, as a music source, for entertainment and also for learning.
Some teens are very careful online and others are engaging in very risky behaviors. I have heard teens say that they don’t do “stupid” things online because they don’t want to disappoint their parents and also because they want to keep their options open for the future. They are also using social media and texting to reach out to supportive people when they are in crisis, which is very positive.
Here are some of the concerning things I have noticed
- Teens sharing their suicidal intentions on YouTube, Instagram & Facebook
- Video chatting with random strangers – services like Chatroulette and Omegle
- Teens are able to get around any internet restrictions parents set up
- YouTube obsession interfering with completing schoolwork or chores
- Regular viewing of pornography
- Trouble managing time spent on online video games
- Teens posting content that could affect their future job & college applications
As a therapist, I see the stress that is created by social media
I will be the first to tell you how much I love technology, but I think the internet and social media is creating stress for all of us. However, our kids are less equipped to handle this new level of stimulation, anxiety and interaction online.
Some of the stress comes from teens airing their relationship conflicts online. This leads to distracting and engrossing emotional drama that unfolds on Facebook or other online spaces.
“These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.” – Sherry Turkle, Alone Together 2011
For teens, and many adults, the digital channel is never off. There is hardly a break and it can become consuming. It interrupts sleep patterns, creates tension with parents, causes grades to drop and generally leads to unhappy kids. The new term I heard recently is FOMO, which refers to the “fear of missing out” and the need to be constantly connected. Many teens seem literally unable to not respond to text messages or ever turn their phones off. Of course, some teens naturally manage this much better than others.
Cyberbullying is still a reality, sometimes subtle and other times horrifying.
Excessive time spent on video games creates all sorts of problems, not the least of which is sleep deprived, irritable teenagers.
Teenage internet addiction is on the rise and has evoked pediatric warnings. The concept of internet addiction is currently being hotly debated and many health professionals, as well as parents are concerned.
One of the problems with “digital intimacy” is that it sets up situations for wounding that are too much for teens to bear. The social situations that arise often go far beyond their social and emotional capabilities. They don’t know what to do and become overwhelmed. Social networking can also be quite superficial.
These are the main concerns that I hear from parents
- Social isolation & withdrawal from the family
- Addiction: gaming, pornography & other
- Interfering with school & home responsibilities
- Teens don’t understand the potential impact of their actions online
- Teens being exposed to negative influences that parents have no control over
- Parents inability to track online activities and protect their kids
So what can we do?
Our job as parent’s is to be a buffer to the digital world until our children are mature enough to handle it on their own. There is no greater protective factor for a teenager than having a trusted relationship with a caring parent. I think the best answer is a combination of education, limits and positive relationships.
Here are some practical ideas:
- Sign a media contract with your kids
- Set up protection software on computers & mobile devices
- Have regular family meals
- Create digital free zones in your house
- Invite your teenager to educate you on current trends
- Show interest & curiosity in your teen’s life – online and off
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