. . . the right care at the right time

Are your kids addicted to social media? RUS? DBD!*

IMG_1342By Martha Adair, Therapist, Director, New Oakland

Are Facebook and other social media sites immensely popular because of society’s growing inability to communicate well face-to-face, or, do they fill a void because peoplesm1 have fewer opportunities to communicate face-to-face?

This is the old, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg” argument played out in the wildly pervasive social media explosion.

We need answers and solutions, because, at worst, our children are getting bullied, and at best, are still wasting huge chunks of time caught up in the fascination, addiction and dangers of social media.

At a recent meeting New Oakland had the Warren Consolidated School System, middle school Principal Shaun Greene-Beebee said, “80% of the problems we have with our students stem directly from social media.”

Think of that: 80% of problems in our schools are attributed to something that didn’t even exist less than a decade ago!

Many students become hopelessly distracted by the constant flow of text messages, Facebook posts and Instagram photos. In fact, Greene-Beebee told of two seventh grade girls, straight-A students in fact, who were suspended for “sexting” naked pictures of themselves.

I’ll take a wild leap that the boys on the receiving end may have lost their teacher’s train of thought on the root causes of World War II.

So, we know we have a problem, but who is to blame? Mark Zuckerberg? The kids themselves? Or, is it us, the parents?

John Dyer writes in Our Technological World, “New data suggests that while the often heard complaint, ‘Kids these days spend all their time online rather than face-to-face,’ may be true, it’s not true for the reasons we think. No, today’s under-18 crowd is not made up of degenerates who don’t like human contact. Rather, they want face-to-face time as much as we did, it’s just that their parents won’t let them have it.”

That argument is advanced in “It’s complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens,” by Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd. Boyd spent a decade interviewing hundreds of teens about their online lives. What she found is that teenagers would love to socialize face-to-face with their friends. But adult society won’t let them. “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other,” Boyd says. “They’re not allowed to hang out the way you and I did, so they’ve moved it online.”

Dyer relates it to his experience. “As a teenager in the early ’80s I could roam pretty widely with my friends, as long as we were back by dark. But over the next three decades, the media began delivering a diet of horrifying but rare child-abduction stories, and parents shortened the leash on their kids. Politicians warned of incipient waves of youth wilding and superpredators (neither of which emerged). Municipalities crafted anti-loitering laws and curfews to keep young people from congregating alone. New neighborhoods had fewer public spaces. Crime rates plummeted, but moral panic soared. Meanwhile, increased competition to get into college meant well-off parents began heavily scheduling their kids’ after-school lives.

As Boyd points out, “If you want your kids to learn valuable face-to-face skills, conquer your own irrational fears and give them more freedom. They want the same face-to-face intimacy you grew up with. ‘Stranger danger’ panic is the best gift America ever gave to Facebook.”

Social media addiction may also have the same root cause as other addictions. A Harvard study concludedthat the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the sensation of pleasure, the same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or having even having sex.

So, as parents of teenagers, what do we do?

“One common sign in teens who spend too much time on the Internet is difficulty waking up for school,” says Lisa Hueckel, a parent education specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “This could indicate the child is spending time on the computer at night instead of sleeping.”

Other warning signs of Internet addiction include:

  • Diminished interest in activities your teen once enjoyed
  • Feelings of distress or anxiousness when your teen cannot use the Internet
  • Secretive Internet usage
  • Withdrawal from activities with family and friends

 Hueckel suggests:

  • Set limits on how often and when your child can use the Internet
  • Join the same social networking sites as your child to monitor his or her activity
  • Keep the computer in a public room in the house so Internet use can be monitored
  • Encourage your child to participate in other activities to prevent excessive Internet use

Nobody ever said parenting was easy, just like no one suspected it would ever get this hard. You’ll also need to learn the anachronisms of texting. LOL, OMG, those are easy. When your daughter texts “TDTM” (talk dirty to me) or “GNOC,” (get naked on camera) you’ll really know it’s time to pay closer attention.

*RUS (Are you serious?) DBD (Don’t be dumb)