At the start of this year, there was no way anyone would have guessed school would be out, everyone would be quarantined, and spring break would be canceled. And yet, here we are. As a highschooler, how are you supposed to enjoy time off of school when you’re stuck at home either by yourself or with your family?

It all starts with your mind! No matter what, if you’re stuck in the mindset that you can’t have fun because your plans are canceled, then there’s no possible way that you will enjoy the week off from school! BUT, if you choose to do some of these things to transition your mind to thinking positively, you’ve got a much higher chance of actually enjoying your spring break, even if you are stuck at home. Yes, some of these things might seem cliché, but we promise – they work!

To transition your mindset, try…

  • Writing a list of 20 things you’re thankful for. Go beyond your friends or a roof over your head. Dig deep and really think it through.
  • Feeling good about yourself. If that means dressing nicely, doing your hair, getting outside, or video chatting with some friends, do whatever you need to feel confident and content.
  • Closing your door for a second. Even if you can’t actually spend time by yourself (hello, younger siblings), spend a minute stepping away from your phone, Netflix, and/or any other distractions and just breathe for a minute.
  • Don’t blame your parents. Right now, everyone in the world is under a ton of stress and each person is dealing with it in their own way. Your parents are in the same boat, too! This is new and difficult for everyone.

Okay… Now that your mindset is right, here are some great ways you can choose to have fun on this year’s spring break!

  • “Travel” the world. Just because you can’t go anywhere doesn’t mean you can’t pretend you can! Recreate the most photographed places in the world out of things around your house. A paper towel roll can turn into the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you try hard enough!
  • Plan a family night. From dinner to games to questions to ask each other, take family night into your own hands! If everyone in your family can’t participate, put together a friend’s night via video call: eat dinner together, watch a movie together, and enjoy a little company.
  • Put together a tutorial. Love doing makeup? Play the guitar? Have a hidden talent (even if it’s making that whistling sound with grass)? Know a few tips for your favorite video game? Put together a tutorial video for your best skill, then share it with family and friends!
  • Plan next year’s spring break. Just because you can’t do it now doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen! Plan a trip with your family or friends to take for next year’s spring break, from where you want to stay to the best restaurants in the area.
  • Teach your favorite TikTok dance. Sure, your mom might not seem super into it. But maybe she’ll give it a try! Teach your parents or your siblings all your favs and then do a group video. Can’t convince them to join in? Have a dance-off with some friends over a video call!
  • Learn something new. Try making cookies you’ve never had before. Teach yourself how to sing (YouTube videos help!). Learn how to make homemade bread. Try a new way to exercise. Write a short story. PRO TIP: start a challenge with your friends to try something new every day, and maybe teach each other what you learned!
  • Break a world record. There are SO many world records out there, and some of them are honestly not that impressive. Try to break one of them, whether it’s the fastest time to put 24 cans in the fridge or the most t-shirts put on in one minute.

Even if your spring break isn’t looking like you had planned, you can still have fun! Use the time you have off from school to know yourself better, know your family better, and know your friends better, too! The opportunities we have right now are unique and once-in-a-lifetime. Don’t waste your spring break wishing your situation was different. Instead, you can choose to enjoy it to the best of your ability!

(also, if you do end up doing one of these activities for your spring break, be sure to tag us at @relatableftf!)

Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t is the title of an article in the New York Times. 

The writer says a growing number of academicians are challenging the true impact of social media and smartphones, questioning whether too much time on devices is actually the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

Before you jump on that bandwagon, believing the claims, you might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of numerous books including Generation Me and her most recent release, iGen: Why Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

In a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, Twenge calls out the NYT writer on six facts that, she claims, he ignores. 

Twenge contends that the NYT article grossly misrepresents the research consensus on technology and mental health because the article makes it sound as if the majority of researchers have concluded that technology use isn’t related to mental health. Twenge says that is not the case. 

“The article also misrepresents findings from a recent review of screen time and mental health studies,” writes Twenge. “The article does mention a recent review of studies on screen time and mental health by Amy Orben, who concluded that the average correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is between .11 and .17.”

The article cites this study as evidence that the link is small, but Twenge argues these are not small effects. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey of US High School students indicates that twice as many heavy users of electronic devices (5+ hours a day) compared to light users (1 hour a day) have attempted suicide (12% vs. 6%).

Twenge states that the NYT article quotes experts who, without plausible evidence, dismiss the possibility that the rise of social media and smartphones might be behind the marked rise in teen depression, self-harm and suicide in recent years. The article quotes Jeff Hancock of the Stanford Social Media Lab as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? How about income inequality? How about more student debt?”

“The problem with this argument is that none of these factors can explain the increase in teen mental health issues that began in 2012,” Twenge writes. “First, they didn’t happen at the same time. The largest increases in income inequality occurred between 1980 and 2000… Student loan debt has been stable since 2012. The number of Americans worried a fair amount or a great deal about climate change went from 73% in 2012 to 74% in 2019.”

Twenge contrasts this with 2013, the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. By 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly.”

“The largest increase in self-harm, self-poisoning and suicide occurred among 10- to 14-year-old girls,” Twenge writes. “Hancock would have us believe that 10- to 14-year-olds are harming themselves because they are upset over income inequality or possibly someday having to pay off student loans after college – not because they are bullied online, not because they feel constant pressure to look perfect on social media, not because they can access online sites instructing them in self-harm, and not because electronic communication has replaced in-person interaction, a basic human need.”

While Twenge does state that concern about climate change seems plausible, she asks, “How many 12-year-old-girls do you know who are cutting themselves because the planet is warming? It is much more likely they are concerned about self-image, social status, friendships and family relationships – all issues that have become fraught in the age of social media.” 

Twenge also notes that the rise in depression, self-harm and suicide has been considerably larger among girls than boys. She contends that all of the issues listed above should impact boys and girls equally. Thus, they do not explain why the rise would be larger for girls.

Technology use, however, does differ by gender. Girls spend more time on social media, which may be more toxic than the gaming which is more popular among boys.

Twenge calls out the author for combining two completely separate questions – whether technology use is related to depression among individuals and whether the increase in smartphone and social media use is related to the generational increase in teen depression.

“Even teens who don’t use technology have been affected by the shift in teen social life from in-person get-togethers to online interactions,” Twenge says. “Consider a teen who doesn’t use social media and would prefer to go out with her friend, but who will she go out with when everyone else is at home on Instagram?”

The NYT article also points to Europe as proof that smartphones are not behind the increase in teen depression, yet the evidence shows otherwise. The study used to make the case examines adults, not teens. The World Health Organization reports increases in suicide rates around the world, with the largest increases among youth.

The last point Twenge makes is that while the researchers claiming that technology use is unrelated to well-being said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, one of them is currently employed and one was previously employed by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is funded by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

“Parents can rest assured that their instincts to protect their kids from too much screen time are not wrong,” Twenge writes. “If kids who ate five apples a day versus one were twice as likely to attempt suicide, parents would make extremely sure their kids didn’t eat too many apples. Why should our response to technology time be any different?”

The moral of this story is – don’t believe everything you read. Check the facts for yourself. What you don’t know can hurt you and the ones you love.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2020.

Let’s be real, there aren’t too many people in this world that would choose to actually be lonely. We as human beings thrive off our interactions and connections with other people. We are usually our best selves when we have people who care about us in our lives.

Read more

What do you do when your friend is in a toxic relationship? Can you spot it? But what about you? Do you know when you’re in a toxic relationship? Most people want to be in healthy and satisfying partnerships, but sometimes we settle for less just so we can feel wanted, appreciated, or loved.

Read more

Have you ever had a friend who completely began to ignore you when they started dating someone? Or a friend who began acting differently once they were in a relationship? How did that make you feel? Angry, irritated, frustrated? However it made you feel, we all say that will never be us until… it is.

Read more

There is pretty much nothing more exciting and scary than thinking about crossing the threshold into your freshman year of college. Your parents won’t be telling you what time to get up or that you need to study. You can stay out as late as you like with whomever you like. Don’t feel like going to class? No problemo. The professor isn’t going to report you and your parents will never know. FREEDOM!

We asked some recent college grads what most surprised them about their freshman year, and here are some things they wished they had known:

ROOMMATES

95% of college freshmen have never shared a room with anybody, so you have to figure out how to communicate, handle conflict, respect each other’s differences and create clear boundaries. This is easier said than done, but worth the discussion for sure.

ABOUT YOUR PARENTS…

They may only be a phone call away, but they shouldn’t be coming onto campus to do your laundry, making sure you get to class, nagging you to study or setting up a party so you can get to know people. This is truly your chance to take advantage of what you’ve learned and put it into practice.

BE PREPARED TO:

  • Know how to do your laundry.
  • Live on a budget.
  • Manage your time. Don’t let the freedom go to your head.
  • Go to class.
  • Get involved in a few organizations to help you meet people.
  • Avoid the temptation to go home every weekend. 

ALCOHOL, DRUGS… AND SEX

No matter where you go to school, you might be shocked at the drug and alcohol scene. You may choose to stay away from it, but your roommate might not. (And it can definitely impact your relationship…) If you do choose to participate, don’t underestimate the kinds of things that can happen when you are under the influence. Chances are great that you will participate in behavior you otherwise would not get involved in.

Use your head. If you go to a party, get your own drink. Before you go somewhere alone, tell someone where you are going or even better – take somebody with you.

You should familiarize yourself with your college’s sexual misconduct policy and definition of consent and know what a healthy relationship looks like. Think about your boundaries ahead of time. 

Maybe you want to do some things differently at college, or perhaps there are some friendships you know you need to leave behind. Freshman year is an opportunity for a fresh start and greater independence. Take this time to become who you really want to be and surround yourself with people who will help you reach your goals. The next four years are laying a foundation for your future, and how you spend your college years really does matter.

Sometimes, truth be told, the whole thing is super overwhelming, but nobody wants to admit that’s the case. If you ever feel like you’re in over your head, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of free resources on campus to help you adjust to campus life.

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on August 16, 2019.

There might be The One, but then there’s also the one you actually marry.

Read more

Have you heard that question, “What are you going to do with your life?” Probably a million times. I was lucky enough to grow up knowing my great-grandparents and though I can’t recall many words of wisdom they gave me, I do remember that in my senior year of high school my great-grandfather used to ask me, “What are you going to do with your life?” Back then I would tell him “I want to be a nurse and help people.” Well, It’s been three years and he has since passed, but his voice still plays in my head as people ask me what I’m going to do when I graduate from college.

Read more