Most parents worry more about their young children like toddlers. However, teenagers are arguably more at risk.
Kids start using tablets and computers so early we often forget just how young. Using this type of technology so early could stump development.
Along with technology, we have social media. The sheer amount of hours our children spend on social media is really shocking. In fact, there’s so much use of social media that some children are suffering from anxiety and also low self esteem.
There was a survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health who asked 14-24 how social media impacted their health and wellbeing. The report found that the most popular social media channels led to increased feelings of depression, loneliness, poor body image and anxiety.
It’s amazing how many hours teens can keep themselves occupied. We’re talking about the hours after school and way past their bedtime. If they’re not doing homework you’ll likely find them texting, sharing, trolling etc, etc.
Now, to be clear. This really isn’t a new phenomenon. Kids have been doing extra curricular activities for many years. However, it wasn’t social media. It was likely going to be kids on the phone for hours on end or worse still, in person. They also spent a lot of time in shopping centres.
At the time, I can believe that parents were pulling their hair out with the thoughts that their teenage child was wasting their life away. However, if we take a different perspective now that we have context of time on our side, we can see that our children were trying out and testing their social skills.
They were succeeding and also failing with their many interactions. Unfortunately, this is something the kids of today are certainly missing out on. The teens today are learning to do this via a screen instead of in person which is causing problems now and will affect them in the future.
“As a species we are very highly attuned to reading social cues,” says Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect. “There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills. In a way, texting and online communicating—it’s not like it creates a nonverbal learning disability, but it puts everybody in a nonverbal disabled context, where body language, facial expression, and even the smallest kinds of vocal reactions are rendered invisible.”
Lowering The Risks
Learning to communicate with new friends and also maintain those relationships is a skill. Without the personal interaction it’s extremely hard for teens to communicate with new people effectively.
When our children are having personal interactions with their peers, you generally find that they are much more honest in person than through a digital screen.
Now, no matter whether this is a new or old friend, you’ll find this to be the case. If they are having problems and they feel the need to talk about them. It’s so much easier in person than via a digital screen.
We believe that our teens lose the sense of fun and excitement if they’re not having conversations in real life. “Part of healthy self-esteem is knowing how to say what you think and feel even when you’re in disagreement with other people or it feels emotionally risky,” notes Dr. Steiner-Adair.
Now, we won’t know what the long term effects of this will be. It’s going to take some time to evaluate the problem we think is coming.
Even talking on the phone can be quite intense. When you don’t see the facial expressions or the type of response it can make the conversation quite intense.
It’s basically because the conversation doesn’t feel like it’s in real time. If you’re not used to this type of conversation, then it can feel quite uncomfortable.
Cyberbullying and the imposter syndrome
One of the things that has increased over this period is the sheer number of kids is the number of children communicating indirectly and being cruel. “Kids text all sorts of things that you would never in a million years contemplate saying to anyone’s face,” says Dr. Donna Wick, a clinical and developmental psychologist.
This sort of behaviour is prominent among girls, especially. Strangely enough this happens when they don’t want to disagree with each other in real life.
In our society, girls are socialised to care more about what other people think and find it hard to find and develop their identities. This in turn makes them a lot more vulnerable and increases their lack of self esteem.
What should parents do?
The first thing you can try and do is limit the amount they consume with their digital devices (this will be a lot harder than it sounds). It’s a lot easier if you try and do this yourself before you advocate that they do it. Kind of like a “do what I do” instead of “do what I say”. In essence, you’re trying to set a good example of what healthy usage looks like.
You can start by having digital free zones (i.e. around the dinner table and watching a movie together). To be honest, we all check our phones too much and doing this will likely help the situation. Dr. Steiner-Adair advises. “Don’t walk in the door after work, say ‘hi’ quickly, and then ‘just check your email.’ In the morning, get up a half hour earlier than your kids and check your email then. Give them your full attention until they’re out the door. And neither of you should be using phones in the car to or from school because that’s an important time to talk.”