Being the first generation of mothers to parent the use of cell phones, we are just starting to learn the effects that social media is having on our children. Cyberbullying is part of it, yes, but a much larger part of it is the endless scrolling as our children sit there and compare themselves to others all day long. This simple act is causing our children's anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts to skyrocket. In this episode, I give you a few things you can do to help lessen the effects of social media on your child.
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Hi moms! Thank you for joining me today!
Before we get started, I wanted to ask all you moms for some help with an upcoming episode I’m doing. Dad’s too. Anyone who would like to take a minute and help me out with this, I would really appreciate it.
In December, I’m doing an episode on the importance of family traditions. I would love part of that to be sharing other family’s favorite holiday traditions as well. So if you would like to be a part of this, I just need you to send me a quick email with your favorite holiday tradition that you do with your family. My email is [email protected] and I really look forward to hearing from all of you!
Last time we were together, I did part one of children and smartphones. We talked a lot about contracts and the importance of having something like this in place so your expectations are clearly set for your child, preferably before they get their cell phone, but even if you haven’t established a contract and they already have a phone, it’s not too late. At all.
As I mentioned last time, we are the first generation of parents to figure out how to parent the use of cell phones, so if we need to change things up a little bit along the way, we can. In fact, I don’t see how we can’t. Because this is all new territory, we are going to have to change things sometimes, maybe even often, as we navigate through this unknown world of technology.
And I’m not saying “unknown world” because we are technologically illiterate as parents. I don’t think we are at all. I think we are pretty savvy, for sure. Maybe not as savvy as the teenagers today, but we know our stuff. We’ve been around technology for a long time. When I say that “unknown world of technology” because we are just starting to learn the effects that these smartphones are having on our children. (And even us!)
Last time, I told my story about when my children first got their smartphones. I did not foresee this at all, but I saw that a piece of their childhood had just abruptly ended the minute that phone was in their hand.
It , of course, makes sense why we want our children to have a cell phone. Rarely does anyone have a landline anymore, so it’s a necessity for kids to have a way to get a hold of you. And the convenience of our children being able to get in contact with us at school if they need something or when we need to pick them up after practice, and all that stuff. It’s a huge convenience. And I’m not suggesting we change the fact that we give our children cell phones. We just need to be aware of what these phones are doing to our children. Even just the anxiety these phones are causing our children is astounding.
When kids have their own devices, they are tempted to be in touch constantly and maybe even feel obligated to be in touch when they don’t want to. A ten- or eleven-year-old child without a phone can simply tell her friends that she couldn’t talk last night because she was busy, and if she’s using the family phone in order to communicate, that’s believable.
But once you have a phone, it is hard to ignore when your friends reach out. As in our adult world, not answering implies you are ignoring someone and it actually seems even worse in the child world. You do not leave your friends on “read”--that is a huge social faux pas. They cannot ignore each other. So it is this huge anxiety for our kids that they have to be in the middle of everything all the time and answering everybody all the time or else people are going to start getting upset with them.
Many clinical psychologists are catching onto this and they have come forward saying that they believe that many of the mental health issues young people are facing today can be traced to technology. There is a constant stream of news and information, both good and a lot bad, that we simply cannot get away from because we take our phones everywhere. It’s just right in our face all the time. We are just overwhelmed with information, which is taking a toll on us as adults, but it’s even worse for children to deal with.
So, today I want to talk about the effects Social Media has on our children. The most-used social media by children and teens is YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, TikTok, and Twitter. I was surprised they didn't use Facebook very much because that’s where I’m most comfortable, but my kids have informed me that this is where all the parents are so they feel like it's for old people and they just choose to avoid it more.
You might think that social media is just where your child can be social and interact with others they know, like snapchat and Instagram, but YouTube and TikTok are also considered social media.
Anyway, these social media platforms have created an environment where being a child or teen is extremely stressful.
Have you ever hung out on social media too long? How do you feel afterwards? I always feel like the clock just played a cruel joke on me. There is no way that hour just went by. But more than that, I start to not feel as happy as I may have been before I sat around scrolling. And I have a fully developed frontal lobe. What about our children and our teenagers with not fully developed brains? That feeling we have is like 10 times worse for them. And for so many reasons.
Social Media causes our teens to live in a constant “comparison trap”, which is basically the habit of measuring your life against others. This is one of the most toxic unhealthy things we can do to ourselves. It's that "grass is greener on the other side" mentality.
It is so important to know and understand that social media is this world where everyone is sharing one perfect second of their imperfect day, and we're interpreting that perfect second as a life of perfection.
We as adults can understand that the reality is much different. We know people are just posting their highlight reels. But even for us, who understand that, it’s still hard for us sometimes too. We know that people probably don’t live in that perfect-all-the-time life, but for children and teens it’s different. They start questioning, “Well what’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my life? I’m not that popular and I’m not having that much fun, and I clearly am not getting invited to go to parties and things, I’m such a loser.” It causes a loneliness, an isolation, and a desperation that our generation never experienced growing up.
I remember when I was young, and if I would have a birthday party where I was allowed to invite maybe 3 friends to have a sleepover or something, my mom made sure I knew and my 3 friends knew that we will speak of this to no one come Monday morning at school. It was just good manners. We didn’t want people to feel left out or less of a friend just because I didn’t invite them to my birthday party. We were aware of not wanting people to feel bad.
Now fast forward to when my oldest daughter was about 14 and some of her very best friends posted pictures of them at a concert, it was a big concert, like Justin Bieber or something and she realized right then that she was never told about it or invited. Now, before the times of social media, she might have never known. Maybe they would have had the lecture my mom gave to me and maybe they would’ve kind of kept it quiet, but not anymore. If you are doing something these days, especially something big, it needs to be out there. In fact, has it even happened if it’s not out there for all to see?
We no longer care who it hurts, I’m not even sure our children think about that anymore, I don’t even think that is something we talk about anymore because everything is out there for all to see. So we no longer teach the etiquette of not hurting feelings of those who were not invited. Everyone is trying to show how great their life is.
So as our kids are scrolling through Instagram seeing all of this, it truly is affecting them. More deeply than we can even understand. Like I said, take how it affects us and then double or triple that or more, and that’s how it is affecting them.
And then there is the issue of cyberbullying, kids these days feel that they can say anything on social media. They are very brave when they are able to hide behind their phone and talk a big game when they don’t have to look into someone’s face and say it. They probably wouldn’t even talk like that to someone’s face, but there is such power that comes with not having very many consequences for your words.
Back in our day, if we talked like that to someone, we would probably have to meet them somewhere after school and defend ourselves in an actual physical fight. That happened all the time in Las Vegas where I grew up. These days, with just how social media is, lots of kids are saying whatever they want to say and no one can do anything about it. And parents aren’t even realizing what’s going on.
But that is all I will say about cyberbullying and such, because that is a whole separate topic for another day. But the reason I bring up cyberbullying is because I just found out the other day that when people say social media is dangerous for our children, a lot of parents are interpreting that to mean that it’s dangerous because of cyberbullying and that suicide rates are going up because of cyberbullying and they are very worried and aware of protecting our kids from the cyberbullies, and if we can do this then they will be fine and they can use social media and it won’t affect them.
Yes, cyberbullying is a very dangerous part of it, but also a very small part of why kids are feeling the way they feel when they use social media. Those parents are totally missing the mark. There is so much more behind social media and the effects on our children than just someone perhaps having the chance to be mean to them. It’s that comparison trap we talked about; it’s that feeling of “look at everyone’s wonderful life and my life isn’t wonderful--it’s actually boring and lonely and hard”.
But the thing that they don’t understand is that everyone is struggling. Even the kids who post the most amazing fun, popular things on their social media, are struggling. Our kids are spending so much time envying others and all they have to show for it is depression and anxiety and feelings of worthlessness.
So my point today is, and I do have one: The amount of time your child spends on social media is critical. Studies have shown that the sweet spot is just 1 hour per day. That’s it. Not more than that. I would suggest doing whatever you can to be sure that this is all they get. Because as their time goes up, so does their anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Even 2-4 hours per day, this goes up by 30%. Thirty percent more anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts by being on social media just 2-4 hours per day. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are cyberbullying them or even being mean to them or anything (because then it would probably be a lot higher). This is simply, them in their own heads, being stuck in that comparison trap and spiraling, feeling isolated and lonely and worthless.
Now, most children and teens are on their social media 5+ hours per day because we simply just aren’t noticing what they’re doing or monitoring that, because we are just learning these dangers. And with this 5+ amount of time, the anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts go up by 70%. Parents, that is scary. Just simply being on social media for more than one hour a day causes our kids so much emotional distress.
And do you know what is the number one reason for stress, anxiety, and depression in teenagers? Yes, I thought it was social media too, especially after everything I’ve learned about it. But it’s actually lack of sleep! These kids are on their phones all night long. They have severe FOMO and don’t want to miss out on anything--not a text, a post, nothing.
So parents, do your kids another favor, besides the contract and putting in some time limits on their phone: Get those phones out of their rooms at night. Have some sort of charging area set up right by your bed, with serious consequences if they have the nerve to sneak in there and take their phones while you sleep. Be ever vigilant, be stern, be tough, be clear in your expectations and consistent in your follow through. Talk to your kids about this, let them know why you are creating these rules. They need us to be strong for them when they have no idea how much this is affecting them.
I think a cell phone is a great idea at the right age, but with restrictions, expectations, and rules in place. They need those boundaries so they can navigate through their life which is tough enough without the effects of excessive smartphone and social media use weighing them down.
They simply aren’t strong enough to do it themselves. They aren't strong enough to put their phone down even when they feel it may be damaging them. Be strong for your child. Set those boundaries; write up that contract; talk about all the things with them that you’ve learned here today; set those parental controls; be all up in their business; force them to put their phone down and have forced family fun time; reconnect; and just get that phone out of their room at night so they can get the rest they so desperately need.
If you need help with any of this, I’m here for you. No judgement, No bossiness. I want to help. I want to help you find ways that you can help your child. We need to take our responsibility to parent the use of smartphones very seriously.
Remember: Limits and boundaries create a consistent, trusting, safe space for your child. Don’t be deterred when they resist; your child needs it.
Thank you so much for listening today and I’ll talk to you next time.
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