Thursday, October 8, 2015

How "Being 13" May Shock You

I can honestly say I was nauseous as I was watching the CNN special called "Being 13" It's one thing to think theoretically how social networking is affecting teens, but it's a whole other thing to hear, up close and personal, the way kids use it, what they say on it, and the effects it has on their emotional well-being. The researchers captured 150,000 posts from 13 year old teens who by the way, gave the researchers permission to snag these posts for analysis. In the same way that teens don't get the consequences of posting sexual or profanity laced posts, these kids had no idea that some of these texts would be broadcast coast to coast, and that they might be identified.

Here are some of the comments from the 200 teens surveyed asked what would happen if they couldn't use their social networks:

  • I'd feel like I'm going to die
  • I would feel empty inside
  • I would rather not eat for a week than get my phone taken away
  • 57% said that they would rather be grounded than lose their phone
Let's discuss this last one, since to me it is one of the most disturbing!! Rather than hanging out in real time, live and in-person with their friends, 1 out of 2 teens would rather be punished with grounding  than lose their phone. In essence they are saying that their on-line world is more important that their real world!!!

Here is their online world: 
  • when taking a selfie, some kids take 100 pics before they take one that is "on-lineable"(that is my term) This may include multiple changes of outfits, multiple makeup applications and multiple changes of facial expressions and body positioning! This is very time consuming parents!!!
  • Most teens are checking their phones over 100 times a day!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Most teens have no idea who is following them on instagram and twitter. They are giving hundreds of strangers access to their personal life!!!! Terrifying
  • Most kids online persona is completely different that who they are in person
Lets talk about this last one. The teens interviewed said that they would never say or do in person what they say and do on-line. One boy was confronted on this by Anderson Cooper. An adorable boy, dressed in a jacket and tie, polite and intelligent is asked by AC whether he is the same online and in-person. He responds that yes, absolutely, he is "real and himself both in real time and on line. Here is where teen magical thinking comes in. This poor boy who had given permission for the researchers to snag his posts, is now presented and confronted by a huge screen full of profanity, violent and sexual posts that he had posted. And a snide AC says "hey I thought you said you were the same in person and on line, is this how you are in person. BUSTED!!! Like a trapped animal this poor teen tries to talk his way out of it, and humiliated is almost speechless. The other teens, laugh nervously, thanking god I'm sure, that their like-minded posts were not shown. As humiliating as that moment was for this teen, watching his father, part of the parent group being interviewed, being shown these posts of his son was equally as squirm producing. AC first asks the dad does he think his son is capable of writing texts that are sexual, violent and profane. He says truthfully, that his son is a good kid, they have talked about appropriate posting etc, and that he trusts him. The camera stays on this poor dad's face as he reads his son's on-line life. Torture!

When the teens were asked about posts that were designed to be hurtful and mean, they responded that all kids do it, and if someone says something mean to you, you have to be mean back. One girl who was interviewed and had been regularly bullied on ASKFM by anonymous posters was asked why she bothered to read such horrible stuff. She said she'd rather know what was being said about her. Now I want to tell you that kids are writing mean and horrible things are not writing them to kids they barely know, they are mostly writing it and receiving it from their closest friends, who apparently can be vicious one minute and completely loving the next.  Go figure!!

I could go on for hours here, but I don't want lose you before I can give you some strategies. First, the researchers found that when parents engaged with their teens about this whole social networking extravaganza, their teens were less likely to become depressed or anxious. So at the least rather than judging and criticizing them for being so addicted to this, drink a little bit of the kool-aid and understand with them how important you know this is to them. That at least should be your starting place. You should absolutely know what apps your teens are using regularly and become a follower. Not to punish them, but so you can at least have conversations when you see posts that are overtly mean, sexual, or violent, even if they don't come from your teen. At least follow one of their friends, they won't know or care who you are anyway.  (remember half of their followers are strangers) It also wouldn't be a bad thing to go on your kids apps and ask them about followers you aren't familiar with, and ask them to tell you how they know them. They probably won't unfriend them but at the least you are getting them to think about having complete strangers being so privy to their lives.

Now about the language your teens use on-line. For years I have recommended to parents that rather than use the words inappropriate language, say the  real words out loud. As I mentioned in the beginning these kids said they would never say in person what they say on-line. That's because they haven't heard it said out loud!!! So say I don't want you offering or receiving "dick pics" (how kids say penis pictures). No sucking dick requests or offers. You can't make your teen not use swears and sexy language, hearing words come out of your mouth like a truck driver might at least sensitize them to how they sound and more importantly how they feel. Though all teens know how hurt and insecure it makes them feel when they get a mean post, or they are not tagged in a photo(apparently a fate worse than death), or excluded from a group text, they seem to feel no hesitation to pay the abuse forward. What's up with that????

You can't monitor every post but you can limit opportunity, and as far as I can see that is the most you can do. If you have kids who are 10-15 you absolutely should be in control of how much access your kids get to social networking, they do not need 24/7 availability. An hour after school and an hour before they go to bed, and of course no cell phones in bed!!!!!!! Here is a website where you can get some help with parental controls. USE IT!/ These are products that allow you to shut off social networking sites on your teen's phones, ipads, and laptops and then turn them on when you want to. This helps give your teen breaks from this obsessive and addictive behavior. Your teen will not be happy, they will yell and carry on, but when they get used to whatever schedule you agree on for use, they will be relieved. I have had many parents call me after instituting these breaks and report that their teens actually thanked them. Teen don't obsess about all this because they want to, they obsess because they have too!!!

Your teens need some peace of mind!


  1. Joani,
    I looked at the tools on the link. Wondered if you or your readers had any experience with any of them. I certainly should be putting something in place. My kids mostly use Snapchat and from what I understand it is a challenge to "police" this app but wondered if any of the limiting apps are able to limit use of this app to certain times.

  2. I know that verizon's parenting controls allow parents to schedule times, Ido think some of the ones on that site do too