ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tera is a navigator in region 5, and comes to OhioKAN with experience in case management, community outreach, and conflict resolution. She previously worked at The Village Network as a Behavioral Specialist in the Stabilization Unit, and at One-Eighty in Wooster, OH as a Case Manager. She is a certified Chemical Dependency Counseling Assistant (CDCA I), and is certified in Crisis Prevention Intervention. Tera is also the co-owner, coach, and choreographer at Cheer for Life Gym. She has volunteered as a softball and basketball coach for the Special Olympics, and every year Cheer for Life Gym makes blankets for cancer patients at Akron Children’s Hospital.
People love to talk about themselves! People love to connect! Now is certainly the time for that in this technology-driven society. Whether reaping the benefits of telehealth, being able to pick out groceries and have them delivered to your door, working from the convenience of your home (like me), or keeping in touch with family and friends all over the globe at the push of a button, society has evolved, and all the aforementioned technologies are a part of everyday living. However, with all the good this generation is experiencing, there is a price: the positive correlation between social media platforms and increased mental health issues. Youth, adolescents, and young adults are at the forefront of this issue. As caregivers, prevention is always preferred, so it’s important to know what we are up against. Cyberbullying, lack of in-person contact, unrealistic views of peers, distractions, and addiction are just some of the many mental issues that our children face. Few know another way, and this is a highway to unhappiness. When it comes to your child and social media, seek awareness, support, and guidance.
I am a forty-something, mother of three (20,21,22). Growing up, I had a computer typing class in middle school, but no computer at home. I purchased my first cellphone at age twenty-three. I also believed, in my early to mid twenties, that AIM was the absolute coolest thing you could use on a computer. For my oldest daughter’s 8th birthday, she asked for a cellphone, because all the kids had one. She did not receive one that year, and, in turn, nominated me for the meanest mom in the world. However, the kids did get the ever-coveted cellphones around the ages of 10,11, &12. From that day forward, our family dynamic would never be the same. There was no punishment greater than losing cellphone privileges, phones had to be docked in our room at night or they would simply not sleep, contact with and the exact whereabouts of friends and enemies were always known, and there were far more tears than celebrations. With each passing year, new and better social media sites were introduced, all must haves for the “cool kids”. Each of my children struggled in different ways with this “social dilemma”. So, imagine, children that either are living in the foster system or have been adopted, and are with older (even less technologically advanced) kin. These children already have foundational trauma to work through, with mental health already a concern. This gives all caregivers an additional responsibility of protecting these kids from online risks which can certainly include protecting them from themselves.
The best first step is knowledge and awareness. Caregivers of all types, including kinship and adoptive families, want the best for the children in their home. Therefore, the more resources they have to combat this growing concern, the better. By 2015, 92% of teens and young adults owned a smartphone. Additionally, in a study of 8th-12th grade students, between 2010-2015 depressive symptoms increased by 33% in males and 65% in females. How can you combat this? You fight for the kids in your home by educating yourself about social media, learning the ins and outs of the different sites, and more than anything keep the line of communication open between yourself and the ones you love.
Keeping lines of communication open can often be misinterpreted as being overbearing. Two popular Google searches for teens are: How can I be sneaky online and how to hide apps from strict parents. A few popular social apps include:
- SnapChat: an app that you can send pictures and messages to each other that immediately delete. Also note, kids can change the names of their contacts to look like it’s a close friend or family that would be allowed on their phone.
- Instagram, (Finsta): A lot of students are creating a family and friend friendly Instagram. But what you don’t know is that they often then create a “finsta”, a fake Instagram, different from their name with more inappropriate content being shared across the web.
- Ask.com: You can ask or say anything to a specific person on this site completely anonymously. This is a great gateway to cyberbullying.
- Omegle.com: Once joined, any time you visit the site, it will put you on a video call with a randomly selected person who is also on the site.
- The photo vault: Poses as a “second calculator”; however, when you pull up the calculator and put in a secret code, a vault of pictures appears. However, this is not like pulling up your photo library, this is a vault of secret pictures you don’t want others seeing.
It could be easily concluded that you simply shouldn’t allow those apps, right? Not necessarily. Kids are curious creatures, as well as the most inventive beings to roam the earth. There are new sites like the ones above hitting the web at a rapid pace; kids will simply change direction to get you off track. This is when having a positive two-way conversation with your loved one about electronic devices, social networks, boundaries, and expectations could assist in creating a more trusting, communicative environment around this topic. It is quite possible that either the child is new to social media and simply doesn’t know what ground rules to expect or likely the living environment that they were in previously didn’t bring up the impact of social media. A few articles or sights I found to be very helpful broaching this subject are:
www.familyeducation.com: 5 Things You Should Do Before Your Kids Join Social Media Sites
www.commonsensemedia.org: Facebook, Instagram, Social Media Concerned Parents
www.colourmylearning.com: 7 Essential Lessons on Social Media Awareness for Young Teens, Parents, and Teachers
Once you’ve educated yourself on the dangers, risks, and perks of technology, it is more likely that you recognize the depressive symptoms that could be attributed to it. That is when guidance and “protecting them from themselves” come in. There are social media support groups that cover many topics, including: cyberbullying, lack of in person contact, unrealistic views of peers, distraction, and addiction. Talking to a mental health professional is a good way for kids to find help with issues stemming from social media. Often, “connecting” with other peers facing the same challenges or being able to “talk about yourself” with a mental health professional that specializes in what you are finding difficult promotes a healthier relationship with yourself and the social networking distractions that may be affecting you.
It is an interesting turn of events when you’ve been given a multitude of reasons why social media platforms can be mentally damaging to our next generation, only to be given all social media sites, support groups, and services to aid in the healing. It is our duty to meet our youth where they are. As previously stated, this is the world they were born into, and they do not know another way. We must educate ourselves, communicate, seek guidance when needed, and grow with the times to successfully support and help our kids.
www.youtube.com: The Social Dilemma