Social Media’s Toll on Relationships

Today, adolescent mental health disorders are escalating at an alarming rate. 1 in 5 youth experience a mental health challenge. Disorders such as depression and anxiety have risen as much as 30 percent since 2005, leaving researchers asking: “what has changed?” Some studies have pointed to the ill effects of excessive social media exposure and its role in the fundamental breakdown of interpersonal relationships.

“Instead of talking to friends and family about what is going on in their lives, we just keep up on social media,” said Canopy Children’s Solutions Outpatient Therapist Caleb Cauthen. “We as a society aren’t connecting like we used to and our relationships are suffering as a result. As social beings, we need those healthy connections to thrive”.

One study published by Clinical Psychological Science reported that increased use of social media correlates to an increased risk of feeling sad or hopeless and increased thoughts of or attempted suicide. This could be in part from the false perceptions that everyone’s life is exciting and perfect according to social media, which can have a detrimental effect on young self-esteem. The rise in cyber-bullying and “FOMO” (fear of missing out) is also believed to have increased rates of anxiety as well as depression.

“People often use social media as a way to display the best parts of their day,” said Cauthen. “We don’t typically share about our struggles because that makes us vulnerable. If all we see on social media is perfection, it is easy to begin to think our life isn’t measuring up”.

Social Media’s Toll on Relationships

Social media in and of itself is not bad, however, using social media in place of personal relationships is not only bad, it can be dangerous. We need these close relationships to fall back on during crises and without shared experiences and regular interaction, the foundations of these relationships fall apart. Personal bonds are sources of encouragement, belonging, support and comfort and without them, life can feel hopeless.

While social media is certainly not going away anytime soon, there are some things we can do to help strengthen relationships and build stronger connections to protect from these feelings.

  • Encourage your teen to “clean up” her social media. Help her realize that QUALITY is more important that QUANTITY. Remove social media distractions and focus on the relationships that translate to real life—the people you see, talk to, interact with.
  • Encourage face-to-face social interaction. Have your child join a club, get involved in a church youth group, get a part-time job—encourage to be around peers who he can bond with over shared experiences or common interests.
  • Monitor your child’s social media accounts. It is the parents’ responsibility to know what is going on in their child’s life, including what he posts, sees and is involved with on social media.
  • “Check-in” on your teen’s mental health. At least once a week, take a few minutes to sit down, undistracted, and connect with your child.
  • Teach your child self-validation, that he is more than the number of followers he has or the amount of likes received in a week. Teach him to look at the big picture and to find the positives he brings to his own life.
  • Take social media breaks. Institute rules about social media and technology during meal times to encourage conversation and connection; take a social media vacation while on vacation—long or short, give yourself a break from comparisons and the mental “burden” that come with social media.
  • Lead by example. If your child sees you on social media all the time, she will follow your example.
  • Be vigilant. If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, reach out, press in, let her know you are there.

If you notice your child withdrawing, acting out of character, losing interest in activities, or participating in risky behavior, be aware these are potential signs of depression. If you think your child is struggling emotionally, seek professional help. Don’t wait.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2018 edition of Parents & Kids Northeast Magazine. To find more articles and resources, visit their website at www.parentsandkids.com.  

This feature was submitted by Laura Walker, staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions

 

Helping Teens Navigate the Perilous Landscape of Good Decision-Making

The human brain does not reach full development until the early to mid-twenties. The last part to fully mature is the frontal lobe, which controls decision-making. As with any skill, there are ways that parents can help their child develop positive decision-making skills, particularly when addressing topics such as sex, drug and alcohol use, and relationships.

Your teen’s physical development and exposure to adult situations generally arrive a dozen years before their brain is ready to maturely address them.

Even at a young age, it is important for children to begin to understand how actions have consequences – both good and bad. Allowing a child to experience a bad repercussion (one that is obviously not dangerous to their wellbeing) is key to helping him understand that he should avoid risky behaviors and learn from his mistakes.

When children enter adolescence, they are faced with difficult decisions, some of which can have life-altering and long-term negative consequences. Since we can’t shelter our kids forever and expect them to become well-adjusted, productive members of society, adolescence is the perfect time to begin setting expectations.

“Kids are going to have questions and they will be faced with difficult decisions. If a child is not secure in themselves and are unaware of the serious repercussions and potential consequences for something like drinking or sex, they can be more likely to give in to peer pressure,” said Stephanie Moses, Outpatient Therapist for Canopy Children’s Solutions. “If you get angry or dodge questions when your child brings up a sensitive topic, they will likely stop coming to you. They are going to seek out information and you want to be part of what they are learning so you can also help them understand the potential consequences, as well as your own expectations for them on the topic.”

Responding angrily or accusingly if your teen broaches sensitive subjects like sex and drugs, can shut down communication at a time when they need your support and guidance the most.

Helping your child envision the “big picture” for their lives is also helpful in steering them toward positive choices. Ask what is important to them – sports, friends, grades, going to college? Showing them how certain activities or peer groups can affect or hinder them from “their success” can help to sway them from participating in risky behavior. This can also help you gain an understanding about how well your child understands the potential consequences of such activities.

Modeling positive behavior is also critical in aiding a child’s decision-making process, particularly in friendships and relationships. Children begin to pick up behaviors from their parents at an early age. What example are you setting? Does your child see positive conflict resolution in your relationships? Do they see inclusion and compassion in your friendships? These lessons, while they may be somewhat influenced by peers, begin at home.

Parents need to remember their own teen years and share their experience with their child. Were there decisions you wish you made differently? Were there consequences you or maybe your peers experienced that were life-altering? Share these memories with your child to show why you want them to avoid certain behaviors, but also understand, they may not always heed your advice. Make sure, regardless of the decisions your child makes, you keep the lines of communication open and remind them you are always there.

Your teen may find it difficult to believe you faced some of the same challenges as a teen. Sharing some of your own struggles and the consequences of your actions, can help them understand that you can relate to their problems and have the benefit of life experiences they can apply to their own situation.

“One of the most dangerous things that can happen is when a child finds themselves in a bad situation and is afraid to tell their parents and ask for help,” said Moses. “When you begin to have these conversations with your kids, ask them what they know about drugs, alcohol and even sex and casually find out if they or any of their friends have tried these activities.”

Father and sonMoses reiterates if a child admits to having been involved in risky behavior, try not to overreact but instead thank them for being honest. That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences, but be aware of how you react. Getting angry can quickly close down communication. Talk openly about all the potential consequences (addiction, pregnancy, overdose, disease, injury, etc.), and ask your child how they felt about the experience. This can also be a great time to discuss an “out” or safe word. If your child finds him/herself in a situation they aren’t comfortable with, they can use a safe word to discreetly let you know they need help. This allows them to save face with peers and safely gets them out of the situation.

When helping your teens set high standards for their decision-making and behavior, make sure they know that even if they stumble, you will be there for them to provide love and support.

Bad decisions are often made in the midst of stressful situations, pressure from peers (and sometimes adults) and when seeking acceptance. Moments of heightened emotion are when teens may act more impulsively or reactively to a situation. Having discussions early and encouraging your child to stop and think before speaking or acting can help them to make better decisions in general, not just about risky behavior. Understanding your child’s feelings and evaluating risk/reward is key to good decision-making and staying safe.

While we shouldn’t make all decisions for our kids, we can lay a foundation for good decision-making skills that can be built on. Be sure your child knows that even if he/she makes a bad decision that you are still in their corner and, while disappointed, will love them regardless.

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 2.33.45 PMNow, there’s an app for that. Healthy Teens for a Better Mississippi is excited about the launch of the Healthy Teens Mississippi App. The goal is that every teen in the state choose pathways that will help them live balanced lives, be treated with respect and achieve good physical, emotional, and mental health. The Healthy Teens Mississippi App is a great resource for teens, parents, schools, and community health organizations. For more visit www.healthyteensapp.com.

Laura Walker is the staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions. Canopy is Mississippi’s most comprehensive nonprofit provider of children’s behavioral health, educational and social service solutions. For more information about services through Canopy Children’s Solutions, visit mycanopy.org or call 800-388-6247.

This article was featured in the July/August 2018 edition of Well Being Magazine. Find more articles from Well Being by visiting http://www.wellbeingmag.com/