Saturday, May 25, 2019

Teenage Anxiety Increases with the Help of Social Media

The most popular app today among adolescents is Instagram, but teens also report that it’s the app causing them the most emotional problems. In a survey of over 1,500 teens and young adults, Instagram was cited over other apps such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat as having the greatest impact on their anxiety levels.1There’s a pivotal factor here that determines how much anxiety adolescents experience in social media use. How much are they emotionally invested in social media?

Emotional investment involves the level of vulnerability they share, the time they spend, and their level addictiveness. When teens get upset because they cannot check their messages frequently, it shows that they are too emotionally invested. For these teens, social media is an extremely important part of their life, and checking it is a high priority in their daily routine. In these scenarios, parents need to watch for problems that accompany high levels of emotional investment in social media use. 

Visual Problems. The concern here is not eyesight, but rather the way teenagers begin to view the world based on the social media they are viewing. One of the reasons teens cite Instagram as a depression inducing app is due to the picture-centered nature of the app. Girls especially report having lower body satisfaction when they are highly engaged on social media.2Teenagers live in a pornographic society, and they’re affected by it, even if they never view pornography. Being immersed in an image-based society steers one’s focus toward appearances rather than face-to-face interactions. Images steer the expectation of what one should look like, what is fun, what is acceptable, and what one’s goals should be. Pornography may be a bigger problem for boys than girls, but girls deal with the anxiety of keeping up with what attracts boys visually and behaviorally. And in many cases, what attracts the boys is unrealistic, due to a perspective acquired through the endless view of seductive images. 

Sleep-Deprivation. Researchers have pinpointed sleep deprivation as a common problem among teens who are both emotionally invested in social media and who suffer from higher levels of anxiety. They found that teens with poorer sleep quality were those who were the most invested in social media.3The more sleep-deprived adolescents become, the more they deal with depression.3Teenagers need several quality hours of sleep in order to function emotionally. Some are sleep-deprived because they are engaged in social media late into the night. They have difficulty turning off their devices due to their high levels of emotional investment. 

Emotional Weakness. Low self-esteem, depression, and feelings of isolation are higher among teens who use social media at night.3Adolescents who are emotionally invested develop feelings of isolation and cannot check social media enough. Therefore, they allow social media to steal valuable hours of sleep that jeopardize their ability to function emotionally. As a result of being sleep-deprived, they deal with self-esteem issues and feelings of being left out. 

Anxiety Bandwagons. Long before social media existed, teenagers had a tendency to talk with each other about their issues of anxiety in a way that spreads it rather than eliminating it. The technical word for this is corumination.4Now that teens have social media, corumination has been taken to cyberspace. The problem is that when teens share their anxiety problems on social media, they are not sharing their problems with qualified counselors who can help them, but they are sharing their problems with other teens – the age group that thrives on drama. It’s not therapeutic for adolescents to discuss issues of depression with each other. Most teenagers lack the discernment to know when “anxiety talk” has gone too far and has entered an unhealthy stage, and teens lack the knowledge of a qualified adult to help another teen overcome emotional problems. 

In addition, it’s unhealthy for teenagers to be exposed to an abundance of knowledge about anxiety and other mental health issues, whether the information is about a personal friend or information about mental health problems in general. Too much information can plant seeds in one’s mind and result in emotional problems that never existed before becoming exposed to the mental health issue.

Each of these issues presents a big reminder to parents: adolescents require supervision. While we offer more freedom to our teens as they grow older, we must remember that they do not yet possess the self-control, self-restraint, and knowledge needed to tackle all of the emotional challenges they face during adolescence. Teens need reasonable rules and supervision to help them maintain emotional stability as they navigate through the latter years of their childhood. 


1Chowdhry, A. (2019). Study says Instagram is ranked the worst social app for causing young people to feel depressed. Retrieved from www.forbes.com
2Shah, J., Das, P., Muthiah, N., & Milanaik, R. (2019). New age technology and social media; adolescent psychosocial implications and the need for protective measures. Retrieved from www.co-pediatrics.com.
3Woods, H.C. & Scott, H. (2016). #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of Adolescence51, 41-49. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.05.008
 Ehrenreich, S.E., & Underwood, M.K. (2016). Adolescents’ internalizing symptoms as predictors of the content of their Facebook communication and responses received from peers. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 2, 227-237. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tps0000077

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Why Is Social Media Making Adolescents Feel Lonelier?

Teenagers may think that social media will cure their feelings of loneliness or quench their desire to be included, but it’s having the opposite effect. Researchers1, as well as experienced parents2, are finding that social media spurs negative emotions at a greater rate than healthy feelings, especially among teens ranging in ages from 14 to 17. Since teens have strong desires to fit in with their peers and be with them as much as possible, it seems natural to believe that social media would quench that thirst. But researchers are finding that the more adolescents are engaged in social media, the more likely they are to experience loneliness, feelings of depression, and anxiety3

Fear of missing out (FoMo) and loneliness is higher among adolescents who check their social media accounts most often. Researchers found that the more teens checked their social media accounts and the more accounts they had, the more teens reported feelings of loneliness and depression1. There are two plausible explanations about why this occurs: 1) Students see positive things about their peers and they don’t think their lives measure up. 2) Teens see favorable projections of their friends, and they are afraid that they will not be as well liked. As a result of both of these factors, teens begin to experience depressing feelings associated with FoMo.

Understanding the link between social media use and depressive feelings offers some insight about why adolescents spend extreme amounts of time on social media when they are allowed. The effect has more in common with drinking alcohol than water: it becomes addictive rather than quenching. It begins with a desire to mingle socially, the same reason most adults enter the world of social media. They want to stay in touch with their friends and share their life with others. But as their social media exposure increases, their FoMo increases, which pinpoints a shift in why their cravings for social media increases. Adolescents even experience withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have enough access. As their motivation turns negative – to alleviate their FoMo, loneliness, and anxiety – they no longer experience pure enjoyment. Instead, teens begin to habitually check their accounts in order to cure these negative emotions. 

Parents are becoming increasingly concerned about how much time their children are spending in front of screens and what may result from spending so much time online. The Pew Research Center found that a large majority of parents are concerned, but the majority of parents also trust their ability to monitor their children’s online activity. Of the parents surveyed, 9 of 10 believe they can properly teach their teen healthy online behavior, and almost 9 of 10 parents believe they can properly monitor their children2. It’s feasible that most parents know what constitutes good or bad content, how to install a filter, or how to check the browser history. However, do most parents understand the emotional implications? 

Parents would be wise to realize that content is not the only thing that needs to be supervised when it comes to social media exposure. The amount of time engaged in social media as well as the emotional implications have to be considered if parents want their children to enjoy an emotionally healthy childhood. In most cases, the safest option is for adolescents to stay off of social media, especially the younger they are. It’s healthier for them to build face-to-face relationships and enjoy being with their friends in person. Your children may feel like they are missing out by not being on social media, but weigh those feelings with other factors that should be considered:
  • Is it really possible to be included in everything? Will social media be feeding your child the unrealistic idea that it’s always possible to be included?
  • Is it really possible for your child to never feel left out? Will social media do more to feed your child information igniting jealousy and loneliness, rather than contentment?
  • Is your child really going to build healthy relationships through social media? Will social media meet your child’s natural need for friendship or just make them think they have poor friendships?

Parents need to be aware that adolescents do not interpret information on social media like an adult, and in many respects, teens cannot engage without it being emotionally detrimental. Given that FoMo and loneliness increase, not decrease, with adolescent social media use, it’s evident that children process information differently than adults. While other detrimental factors need to be considered as well, such as sleep-deprivation, depression, body image, and self-esteem (these will be discussed in a forthcoming blog post), FoMo and loneliness are two good reasons for parents to either seriously limit social media, or just play it safe by banning it altogether.


            
Barry, C.T., et al. (2017). Adolescent social media use and mental health from adolescent and parent perspectives. Journal of Adolescence, 61, 1-11. 
Anderson, Monica. “How parents feel about and manage their teens online behavior and screen time.” https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/03/22/how-parents-feel-about-and-manage-their-teens-online-behavior-and-screen-time/
3Woods, H.C., Scott, H. (2016) #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of Adolescence, 51, 41-49.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Establish a Complaint-Free Home

It’s time to end the complaining, and this applies to parents as well as the kids. Certainly, there will be times when life disappointments grieve us to the point that we have to get our feelings off our chest. In such a case, it’s understandable to vent to someone, as long as our perspective is reasonable and it doesn’t constitute gossip. However, if you “vent” twice, then you are probably complaining. If you are a parent, don’t tolerate it with your children, and don’t participate either. 

Kids develop a complaining problem because, a) they are permitted to complain, and b) they hear adults do it endlessly. On that note, understand that being a parent does not make complaining about your children excusable or healthy. To motivate us to end the complaining, I’ve offered four reasons worth pondering: 

1.    Complaining is living in the negative. If we intend to cultivate a pleasant home environment, it will require deliberate action. Self-regulation, self-control, and perspective are absolutely necessary. Let’s teach our children that words have consequences, and that includes tone not just the words themselves. Cultivating a pleasant home to live in requires every member of the family to learn how to handle disappointments – complaining is not a helpful option. Scripture couldn’t be clearer on this issue, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Phil. 2:14). In other words, problems may need to be addressed, but without complaining.
2.    Complaining is harmful to relationships. It’s true that misery loves company, but who wants to be around misery all the time? Children need to learn that complaining people do not win friends. Instead, they spread negative attitudes and eventually alienate themselves from people who seek healthy relationships. There is a point where a person complains enough that they are labeled a complainer, and at that point, others only want their company when they are in a complaintive mood as well. Rather than alienating people who could be a positive influence, become the type of person who “ministers grace” with words (Eph. 4:29).  
3.    Complaining is a distraction from a solution. Problems are resolved when a solution is formed, not when the focus stays on the problem. There may be times when problems need to be worked out in conversation with an appropriate person, but the conversation should be driven by a plan to improve rather than counter-productive complaining. This will require parents to teach children what to do instead of complaining. For instance, help kids put a plan into action to resolve conflicts with friends, rather than listen to endless complaining. Instead of allowing grumbling about how difficult school is, talk to the teacher about a plan of action for improving and help your children focus on the game plan. 
4.     Complaining is failure to submit to God’s will. Not all life situations meet God’s approval; nevertheless, God allows them to happen. It may be God’s desire to permit your undesirable circumstances to provide you with an opportunity for growth. We grow spiritually and emotionally after enduring an undesirable situation, attacking the problem, and overcoming it. Never is it God’s will for us to harbor the self-destructive attitude that manifests itself in complaining. 

Children will need help learning this critical life lesson – complaining assumes the role of a helpless victim and thwarts opportunities to resolve the problem. It’s in a child’s nature to complain about a problem in hopes that an adult will fix it. Sadly, it works at times because the adult only wants to stop the complaining. However, reinforcing this type of behavior fails to teach children how life in the real world works. Neither does it teach them how to live a happy life. Ending the complaining will create a much more positive atmosphere in your home, and it will greatly help your children develop happier dispositions. 

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Eliminate the Drama

Some people love drama way too much. That’s why it has made millions for the television networks. In foregone days, soap operas were some of the most watched shows on television. Today, they’ve been replaced by reality TV. Drama may be entertaining to watch when you have no skin in the game, but it poisons a home. Drama turns a bad situation into a much worse situation. It escalates hurt feelings into bitterness. And, at times, it turns misinformation into a story of slanderous lies – certainly a scenario that ruins relationships.

In my observation, there are two reasons people tend to stir up drama, whether they are dramatic themselves or just enjoy feeding the fury. 1) Some people have difficulty moving on when they are offended. Instead of weighing the cost of acting on their feelings, their first impulse is to start talking, accusing, or retaliating. 2) Some people use drama to advance a personal agenda. The agenda may pertain to their position in society, their family, workplace, or some other societal setting. But regardless of one’s motive, unnecessary drama creates carnage, not solutions to problems. Drama has two enemies, and in this case, these enemies will be your friend:
  1. Truth. The drama stops when people learn the facts and deal with the facts instead of conjured up imaginations or ideas of what could have happened. Actually, the drama stops when people start the process of looking for the facts. When someone approaches you with their story and you suggest that they confront the source instead of you or anyone else, the drama just ended. When you learn to talk to the person who knows the facts instead of others who might find the story fascinating, then you made the choice to seek clarity rather than create drama. Truth and drama don’t mix well because drama’s purpose is not to initially discover the truth. Drama’s purpose is to advance an agenda or feed a particular feeling.
  2. Love. Feelings of retaliation are natural, but natural feelings are not necessarily holy. Spreading the news to gain support for your feelings or advance your opinion springs from selfishness, not love. Love is patient; love is not insistent on its own way; love is not resentful; and love assumes the best in people. The love chapter in the Bible (I Corinthians 13) actual guides people in living a simple life, not a dramatic one. And that seemingly uninteresting life reaps much more personal happiness and personal relationships than the dramatic life.

As this relates to teaching and parenting, don’t get sucked into the drama. There should be an open environment of trust and communication among parents, teachers, church youth workers, and other adults who work together to train children. Resist the urge to overreact to a seemingly shocking story. Instead, search for the truth, and search in a loving way. Let’s refrain from letting TV drama influence the way we live in the real world.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Best Way To Teach Kids Gender Respect

Every day, in the news, a new headline appears detailing yet another disturbing accusation.  A consistent stream of sexual harassment or assault accusations are surfacing, and people continue to try to understand why we live in a culture of so much disrespect. The scenario has made many people, parents in particular, ask themselves how this type of offensive behavior can be avoided. In the media, there’s been a lot of discussion about how appalling sexual harassment is, but there’s not been enough discussion about how to prevent it. Contributing to the overall problem is an absence of moral virtue and a denial of human nature. A society filled with people who believe they can customize their morality to their personal preferences will always result in a culture of abuse, bullying, and disrespect.

As this issue pertains to the world of parenting, many parents have asked themselves, “How can I teach my children, especially my boys, to respect others and prevent them from harassing others?” Among the many pointers that could be offered about this, here’s the best way to teach this virtue: model it in your home.  

Children do more than observe their parents. Children imitate their parents’ behavior and embrace their parents’ values. They watch how dad treats mom, and they listen to the way mom talks about dad. They observe empathy when mom and dad work to encourage each other with their words. They learn how to love when they watch the way mom and dad respond to each other, even in times of disagreement. They learn the value of both genders when they watch mom and dad work together as a team. They learn consideration when they watch mom and dad extend kindness to one another.

When boys watch how dad esteems mom with the highest level of respect possible, they develop a respect for the female gender. When girls observe how mom values dad rather than dismissing him as unimportant, they understand the value of the male gender. When dad prioritizes his family higher than his personal interests, children will begin to associate maleness with responsibility. When mom demands respect from her children rather than permitting rudeness, children will learn that disrespect is inappropriate with females.

Of course, parents need to have discussions at times to train their children, and correction will be needed at times as well. But discussion by itself will never compensate for a poor example. It takes good and loving role models to teach kids how to respect and love others.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Is Dual-Enrollment Right For You?

Duel-enrollment has become an increasingly available option for juniors and seniors. Students can earn college credit while they are in high school by taking a class that counts as both a high school and college credit. Some students sign up for free courses (textbooks are not free or cheap) made available through their local community college. Many accredited Christian colleges offer online classes for college credit that should transfer to almost any college a student may choose to attend later.

Before choosing to take a dual-enrollment course, consider some factors that will help you know if this option is right for you.
  • Your College Goals. Why do you think it will benefit you to take college credit early? Some calculate that it will cost less money to take classes now rather than later. But that’s not true if the college you later attend would not have required you to take these courses in the first place. It’s important to think through your goals for college and what may possibly be your college major in the future. Even if you have not decided what your major will be, you can research the types of courses that potential colleges will and will not require for a general field of study.
  • Time Constraints. Remember that dual-enrollment courses are college courses that run on the college’s schedule, not your high school’s schedule. Your course professor will not care about your extracurricular activities or how much homework you already have this week. If you sign up for dual-enrollment courses, it will be time consuming. Be aware, and be prepared to commit.  
  • Difficulty. Of course you should consider whether or not you can handle the level of difficulty in a dual-enrollment course, but you should also consider whether or not you want to handle it. Just because you can survive it does not mean that you will enjoy it. After one honors student completed a semester of dual-enrollment, I asked whether or not she would be signing up again for second semester. Her reply was, “I decided to wait to do college level work when I get to college.” For her, the rigor and course load was not how she wanted to enjoy the rest of her high school career.
  • Transferability. You need to make sure that your high school will also apply the college course toward their high school graduation requirements. Not all courses, especially those considered an elective, will help you complete your high school graduation requirements. Make sure you talk to the proper school officials before you commit to take a dual-enrollment course. It does you no good to have early college credits if you can’t graduate from high school on time.
  • Worldview. There are two issues to consider here. First, have you considered the worldview of the college offering the dual-enrollment course? Second, colleges’ worldview may cause your Christian school to deny acceptance of that credit. Christian schools are methodical about curriculum development and spiritual growth. If a college promotes a philosophy in direct opposition to the school’s beliefs, some courses may not be acceptable on the basis of religious objections.

Dual-enrollment can be a great option, but there are several factors to consider before signing up. Become as educated as possible about what it will require, and carefully consider whether or not it’s right for you.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Keep Those Brains Active Over The Summer

After 180 days of school, everyone is ready for a break. But is the 10+ week summer really a good idea? It’s not if students do nothing to improve themselves intellectually. While our kids need breaks from the rigorous duties of school, they still need activities that support their intellectual growth, even in the summer. Here are some suggestions for making summer a time of learning.
  1. Read. This is probably the most beneficial thing students can do over the summer. Take them to the local library. Buy some cheap used books on Amazon.com. Or, read the books on the shelf that have never been touched. Kids don’t have to be bookworms to benefit from reading. A key to getting kids to read is to read aloud to them so they will learn to love good stories. Using reading as a quality time activity also helps kids to view it favorably. Then, help them check out books with topics or stories that they will enjoy. You may have to require reading time. For example, have them read for 20 minutes in bed before you turn the lights out. The next time your kids say they are bored, suggest reading!
  2. Take Field Trips. When you are on family vacation, try to schedule in a learning experience. Take in a museum, visit an aquarium, tour a historical sight, or hike a nature trail. Attending enrichment camps that range from academics to the arts are great, but it’s also beneficial when kids have learning experiences with their parents. Not all learning comes from a textbook. Try to work some learning experiences into your summer schedule.
  3. Limit Media. It’s not harmful if used in moderation, but excessive screen time develops a lazy brained and difficult to stimulate kid. This includes TV shows, video games, smart phones, and tablets. Researchers refer to electronic screens as “electronic cocaine” and “digital drugs.” Technology can be fun and useful, but overexposure comes with a brain-numbing price.
  4. Play Thinking Games. Encourage your children to play games that require thinking. Teach them to play chess (you may have to learn yourself!). Buy them games that require strategy, not just rely on chance. Whether it’s board games or card games, they can be fun yet stimulating ways to pass the time.
  5. Get Outside. Pediatricians tell us that children need at least 60 minutes of exercise per day for health reasons. But exercise has benefits beyond physical health. It increases neural activity, improves memory, and helps students learn at a faster rate. Play outside, ride bikes, or go to the park. The important thing is to get exercise outdoors.
  6. Fill in Learning Gaps. If there are some particular skills that your child needs to improve, use the summer to practice those skills. You can purchase practice books, use educational websites, or download e-tablet apps to build your children’s skills in a less intense way than their rigorous school work. Some children may even consider it to be fun.


 Summertime is fun, but don’t forget to keep learning!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Teach Students Self-Defense, Not Revenge

An exasperated dad once told me how he instructed his son to handle a playground conflict if it were to happen again: “If that kid throws the basketball at your head again, punch him, and just be willing to take the teacher’s punishment.” I’ll explain here why that’s not the best advice to give a kid. But let’s be honest. Most of us have thought the same thing when we’ve seen our kids get grief from one of their “friends.” Every parent has thought, perhaps even said, that a punch in the nose would keep a bully from coming back again. No parent wants his son to be a punching bag; but if we’re not careful, we’ll inadvertently teach our children not to defend themselves, but, rather, to seek revenge. Retaliation is an act of immaturity, and the mature people in a child’s life should be helping them rise above that.

Telling a kid to punch a bully can be problematic for a few reasons. (1) If the oppressor is bigger or stronger, your child could be in for a walloping. (2) If your child is bigger and stronger than the other kid, he could cause far more physical harm to the bully than you every imagined. (3) Telling your children to hit another person who has offended them is equivalent to telling them to unleash, rather than control, their anger – and that can have serious repercussions. (4) Your child needs opportunities to learn controlled self-defense rather than unhinged, angry vengeance. I’ve illustrated with physical conflicts, but the principle also applies to verbal and other forms of social mistreatment.

Should our children be a punching bag? No. Is it possible to defend one’s self while behaving in a Christian manner? Absolutely. Do you remember what Jesus Christ told His disciples to do if one of them did not own a sword? “Let him sell his garment, and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The disciples would be travelling from town to town, and they needed to protect themselves from thieves. Why then, did Jesus tell Peter to put away his sword in Gethsemane? The reason lies in the purpose and the people arresting Christ. Christians must be prepared to suffer persecution for Christ’s sake at the hands of evil authorities. However, it’s lawful to physically defend yourself when an individual is oppressing you unlawfully. So rather than telling your kid to punch someone, here’s my advice.

First, teach the difference between self-defense and revenge. Using physical force to stop a physical assault is self-defense.  Tell your child to shove them, tackle them, or do something to keep from being harmed; the objective is to protect oneself, not to hurt the aggressor in retaliation. Tripping someone because they tripped you, or gossiping about someone because they gossiped about you, or punching someone because they threw a basketball at your head is revenge.

Second, teach kids to boldly speak the truth. Some bullies never quit because they have never been confronted with a bold, emphatic “Stop it!” Without using insulting language and four letter words, kids may need to tell someone, “You’re acting like a jerk, and no one wants to be around you when you act like this!” The truth can hurt, but sometimes it needs to.

Third, teach kids when they can resolve a problem themselves and when they should enlist an adult. The emphasis of my advice in this article has been on how to teach kids to handle themselves when they might encounter an occasional conflict. But children also need to learn to report incidents to authorities and not handle major incidents alone. If an incident involves someone being physically harmed, bullied (consistently targeted by an aggressor), or socially maligned, authorities need to be informed. Some childhood conflicts will only be resolved with the assistance of an adult.

In everyday life, adults must do their best to properly react to conflicts that they did not invite upon themselves. The best way to become a wise responder as an adult is to learn proper responses through childhood conflicts.