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I miss my friends. I really do. Though overall, I have to admit I have enjoyed what quarantine has done for my relationship with my husband. (Check out my blog here.) I don’t like that keeping up with my friends on social media looks like scrolling through Instagram rather than making plans to hang out in person. 

As much as you love seeing what’s going on in your friends’ lives, it can become a little overwhelming. When someone is on social media, they aren’t just seeing friends’ posts. They are also exposing themselves to the negativity filling the spaces amidst the photos and posts from friends. Time spent on social media has increased by 20% during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to SocialMediaToday. Forbes also confirms that social media is full of misinformation.

It’s been rock bottom for a lot of people and an uphill battle for the world. Thousands of people are heartbroken over the deaths from COVID-19, hardships, job losses, divorces, families separated from loved ones in the hospitals, and the list goes on.

However, I really do believe there are silver linings for every dark cloud. We have seen the world set aside its differences and make trade agreements. People are sharing intellectual property for the good of humanity, not just the people in their country. We’ve seen volunteers come out of the woodwork to help deliver food to students and families who needed it. Artists share their skill and their specialty and teach people online. Musicians do in-home concerts and athletes provide free at-home training. 

I think we want to see the good—to keep up with what’s happening in our friends’ lives nearby and around the world. We also want to filter out the negative.

Here are some ways to help you keep up and stay positive:

  1. Limit your time on social media. As soon as you feel yourself start to scroll for the habit of it or because you’re bored, find something else to do. Once you’ve seen your friends’ posts and gone through their stories, shut the app. It’s when we get through the relevant posts that we start seeing the suggested videos, photos, or news.
  1. If you know someone or an entity you follow is negative each time you come across them, unfollow or block them for a bit. On Facebook, you can prioritize who you see when you click News Feed Preferences. Put your close friends and family as a priority. Help yourself keep tabs only on who you want to keep up with right now.
  1. If you have an iPhone, you can set daily limits on social networking in your settings or download an app to help you monitor your time. Android phones have apps that do this as well. Not only does putting a cap on your time help you create boundaries, but you are taking a step to protect your mental health. Substantial amounts of research from The US National Library of Medicine—National Institutes of Health have found associations between heavy technology use and poor mental health outcomes among adolescents and young adults.  
  1. If keeping up with your friends is your main concern, try setting aside time to FaceTime or have a Zoom call with them instead.

This will take keeping up with each other up to a more personal level. It’s way more personal than a text or even a phone call.

It’s been a time of transition for everyone. Be patient with yourself as you adjust and be patient with your friends as they navigate their new normal. Some people use the comment section on social media to vent, but that doesn’t mean you have to engage with it. Hopefully, this helps you to keep up with your friends more and negativity less!

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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. They’re questioning whether too much time on devices is the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

You might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say about it, though. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State. She’s also the 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’s 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.”

It 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 Stanford Social Media Lab’s Jeff Hancock as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? Income inequality? 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 states that concern about climate change seems plausible, but 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. This 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.

Here is the last point that Twenge makes. 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. The OII 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.

Image from Unsplash.com

Me: “Hey, dude. Let me check your phone.

My son is 12 and recently got an iPhone. Among the many stressful thoughts I’ve had to entertain because of this new and very significant development was this doozy: “Great, one more thing for me to police.

Me: “Here. While I’m checking your phone, I want you to check my phone.”

Parents checking phones seems like a great recipe for family conflict. The experts debate children’s expectations of privacy, perceptions of mistrust, and voice concerns about how parents searching through phones affect the overall health of the parent-child relationship.

Me: “We’ll check each other’s phones for twenty minutes and then ask each other whatever questions we have. Text messages, social media, browsing history – anything. Okay?”

A few years ago, I conducted an anonymous survey with my high school students about their experiences with their phones and social media. The survey was a tool to help me better understand and serve my students, but I definitely had ulterior parenting motives. So I asked them, “What helps you make good choices online?” The number one answer was immediately surprising to me, but really shouldn’t have been: “Knowing that my parents will check my phone.”

Me: “Listen, we both need to make good choices with our phones. Let’s help each other and keep each other accountable. You can check my phone whenever you want and ask me anything. Deal?”

There are ways to check a child’s phone that move us from confrontation to conversation.

Him: “Sounds good, Dad.”

Image from Unsplash.com

Should your parent check your phone?

When you sit down to a family meal, are people on their devices?

Do your parents follow you on social media?

These are just a few of the questions from an informal survey of more than 1,000 middle and high schoolers during March and April of 2018. The responses might surprise you.

When students were asked if their parents ever checked their phones, 82 percent said their parents never checked or only checked it once or twice a year. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are not on their phones or watching television during family meals, and 22 percent said they don’t eat meals together as a family.

When it comes to social media, 45 percent of the teens said their parents follow them on some apps while 28 percent said their parents do not follow them on any social media apps. Only 27 percent said their parents follow them on all their social media apps.

Overwhelmingly, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, iMessage, FaceTime, Facebook and Twitter were the most popular apps, used by 60 percent or more. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube were all above 80 percent.

Here’s where things really get interesting. 

When asked about negative experiences on social media:

  • 56 percent of respondents said they had been contacted or messaged by a complete stranger. 
  • Over 46 percent said they have been unfriended, unfollowed or deleted from someone’s account. 
  • More than 39 percent said someone had asked them for inappropriate/sexual pictures. 

And when it comes to breaking up, 36 percent said someone had broken up with them by text or another form of social media.

The final question, “Has social media ever made you feel stress, anxiety or depressed?” had some very interesting results. Overarchingly, 45 percent of respondents said social media never makes them feel stress, anxiety or depression. However, in unpacking the data, 62 percent of middle-schoolers said social media never makes them feel this way. Conversely, by 12th grade, 60 percent of teens say it has contributed to stress, anxiety and depression.

Another aspect of this involves structure and parental engagement in the home. Teens who say their parents are actively involved in overseeing their social media engagement reported significantly less stress, anxiety and depression than teens who reported less parental involvement. Teens who reported the least amount of structure and parental engagement also reported the highest levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

Before you convince yourself that technology is the problem, breathe. The truth is, technology will only continue to evolve and move faster as time goes by. Being tuned in to your child is their best hope for navigating those changes in a healthy manner. In a previous survey, teens were asked what helped them make good choices with social media and phone usage. The number one answer was “knowing that my parents check my phone.”

It may be tiring and frustrating, but you are the best app for your child’s phone.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!

Kids are Losing Sleep

Sleep hygiene impacts all areas of your child's life.

Have you ever checked email or text messages in the middle of the night? If so, chances are good that your kids have been losing sleep to those things, too.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) 2014 Poll revealed interesting findings when it comes to families and their sleep patterns.

Of those surveyed:

  • 89% of adults and 75% of children have at least one electronic device in their bedrooms. While a television was the most common device, 45% of parents and 30% of children had a tablet or smartphone with them when they go to bed at night.
  • 26% of parents and 16% of children sent or read emails and text messages after initially dozing off. Technology has become commonplace in the bedroom. However, the duration and quality of sleep appear to suffer when children and adults leave devices on past bedtime.
  • Sleep quality was significantly worse for children who sometimes left the television, tablet/smartphone or music player on at night.
  • Children who leave their devices on get less rest on school nights than other children. Parents estimate it’s a difference of nearly one hour, on average, per night.
  • Parents also view the quality of their child’s sleep negatively if the child leaves electronics on during the night. This holds true even with older children, who are more likely to leave things on. Teens with left-on devices are estimated to get, on average, half an hour less sleep on school nights.

“For children, a good night’s sleep is essential to health, development and performance in school,” says Kristen L. Knutson, a biomedical anthropologist who researches sleep at the University of Chicago. “We found that, when parents take action to protect their children’s sleep, their children sleep better.”

The NSF shares these tips to improve your child’s sack time:

  • Make sleep a healthy priority in your family’s busy schedule. Children ages 6-10 need 10-11 hours of shuteye. Older children need 8.5-9.5 hours.
  • Set appropriate and consistent bedtimes for your entire family.
  • Know how your child is using electronics in the bedroom. Create a plan for appropriate use at night and set boundaries about use before and after bedtime.
  • Educate your family on how light from electronic device screens can interfere with winding down.
  • Talk to your child about the importance of sleep for health and well-being.
  • Create a snooze-supportive bedroom and home environment, dimming the lights prior to bedtime and controlling the temperature; in most cases, temperatures above 75 degrees and below 54 degrees will disrupt your rest.
  • Encourage activities such as reading or listening to music before bedtime. These are more relaxing than watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Web.
  • Make sure children’s activities, including homework, can be completed without interfering with bedtimes.

When it comes to technology, kids are following their parent’s lead.

“Parents need to be good role models in their responsible use of electronics and their children will follow suit,” says Monique K. LeBourgeois, a psychologist who researches sleep at University of Colorado Boulder.

It may be hard to resist, but setting the tone for a good night’s rest can lead to a happier, healthier home.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!