Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Psychology Of Teens and Social Networking

I have recently come across a plethora of articles as I was researching the issue of teens and the effects of over-connection. A recent statistic I read stated that teens spend 7 hours a day on cells and social networking. That is after-school hours. That is alarming. Literally the only leftover time is sleep! In this post I discuss three of them. Pace yourself, there is a lot to read. You don't have to read them all in one sitting, but read them you must, and maybe even read with your teen as you discuss your thoughts and ideas about how you both see social networking fitting in their lives. 

The first article talks about the power of lonely!! (see link below)A feeling few teens allow themselves to feel. To summarize, it talked about the benefits of spending time alone. "When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what's called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflexively about our own thoughts." I know I crave this time alone, letting my mind wander to places it might not normally go. Our lives now make it almost impossible for some people to shut off all the distractions of Iphones, and e-mail, and facebook, and oh, also the face time we give to our jobs, and our families. This leaves little time for rumination. I know some of my most creative and deep thinking comes in the car with the radio and cell phone off, or in long walks with my dog.

The article specifically addresses teenagers and this issue of aloneness. "Teenagers, especially have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others, in part because it allows for a kind of introspection and freedom from self-consciousness that strengthens their sense of identity." The problem is that though being alone is good for the soul, most teens are afraid of it. They have become so attuned to the buzz of ipods, cellphones, computers and video games, that silence feels alien and to some terrifying. So much so that many teens have developed in inability to go to sleep without some "noise". Just being alone with their own thoughts is scary. I have talked a lot with my college students about this, and in some classes I take the first five minutes to do a short meditation. My students have said how hard that five minutes is for them, and that it feels like forever to just be quiet. This is not a good thing.

Some teens like being alone. Even as children they were happy to play by themselves, and often refused the offer of a playdate, just to be with themselves happily in their worlds of make-believe. Some teens are terrified of being alone, desperately looking for companionship and connection. So there is the nature part of this equation.

You obviously can't make your teen take the time to "smell the roses." But you can model it, and you can call attention to it. Here is your I get it moment: 'You know honey I was thinking about how plugged in we all are, and how little time we give ourselves to just be quiet. I read this article recently that talked about how important it is for everyone to allow themselves time to just process. I get how much you have to do, and how important it is for you to stay tuned in to it all, just wish you would take some time to just be." They will probably look at you and think, what the hell is she/he talking about? But that's ok. Sometimes as parents we are just planters. We drop some seeds of wisdom, and hope that somewhere along the way, some sprouts appear.

In another really good article in The Guardian (see link below) on the curses of social networking and teens found this:

"A survey conducted by the Royal Society of Public Health asked 1,500 young people to keep track of their moods while on the five most popular social media sites. Instagram and Snapchat came out worst, often inspiring feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and self-loathing. And according to another survey carried out by the youth charity Plan International UK, half of girls and two-fifths of boys have been the victims of online bullying".

This is not good news!!! As a college professor for over 25 years, I have seen the changes that social networking can have on an entire generation. Since I teach Intro To Psych I have a unique opportunity to find out what goes on in the minds of my freshman students encouraging them, if they so choose, to talk about their experiences with anxiety and depression. I am still shocked by the number of my students that are on some kind of anti-anxiety or anti-depresssion medications as compared to my pre-technology students from the 80's and 90's. They report the same kinds of worries discussed in these articles. 

This article in The Atlantic is particularly  powerful in describing this influence. What can you do?? You can remember that you are the parent. The blog I wrote on Tuesday outlined some of the ways you can keep your teen emotionally and physically safe. There is no more important job of a parent. Will your teens be willing partners? Absolutely Not!! They will kick and scream and tell you they JUST HAVE TO DO THEIR HOMEWORK IN A GROUP CHAT!!!! And here's what I would say. "You know honey, I get doing homework is more fun and maybe even you get the help you need when you do you homework with your friends. But here is the deal, I also want you to develop skills in working things out for yourself. That is an important life skill to have!!! And I have total confidence that you can do just that. So we will have to come up with a compromise. Let's figure out how you can both have SOME time to work on homework with your friends, and SOME time when you do your reading and other work on your own. Let's figure out the time during the evening when you are on your own." Include them in the conversation, then using one of the parent controls have your teen's phone automatically shut off at the appointed time. This will not be easy, and I'm sorry about that...truly. But you are older, and smarter, and more experienced than your teen, and though their tantrums will be loud and uncomfortable, I have complete confidence in you that you can handle the noise!!

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