Tag Archive for: Social Media

I Think My Child Is Cyberbullying… What Do I Do?

You can help them navigate the world of online relationships.

Take a deep breath. You may have just realized that your child might be a cyberbully. Ugh. And now you’ve got to a) Find out if it’s true, and b) If it is, try to address it so that it stops.

Whether you read a social media post, heard from another parent or teacher, or overheard a conversation, something has made you wonder if your child is cyberbullying. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible parent if your child is being aggressive online. While it’s healthy to think through anything you may have done that could contribute, it’s essential to focus on helping your child, because cyberbullying harms young people. Addressing it and dealing with it can promote the safety and wellbeing of your child and those they come in contact with.

So, what even is cyberbullying? It’s using an electronic device to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another. This most often involves being aggressive online toward people from school or the neighborhood. 

What are some warning signs that your child may be a cyberbully?

While there’s no substitute for ongoing conversations between you and your child, this list from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services may be helpful.

  • Dramatic changes in technology usage. Yes, some kids seem to be glued to their devices. Keeping an eye out to see if they are on their devices more than usual or suddenly seem to not care if they are on an electronic device could raise some red flags. They may be super interested in seeing how others respond to them or even feel some guilt and not want to know. Either way, this may be a sign of bullying behavior. 
  • Are they jumpy, hiding devices, or changing screens when you enter the room? Savvy kids can try to hide behavior and screens from you. Learning how to look up search history and digital usage can unlock their electronic behavior.
  • Unwillingness to talk about what’s on their screens. Maybe they give one-word answers; they avoid the topic or ignore the question. Pay attention when they’re unwilling to answer questions about what’s on their screens. This could indicate involvement in harmful online behavior.

Let’s be honest. Most of these bullet points probably sound like normal teenage behavior on a regular basis. It’s difficult to accuse your child of cyberbullying when you’re not 100% sure.

However, these tips can help you address the issue whether you just suspect it or want to prevent it from happening.

  • Dig deeper to get a feel for what’s going on in your child’s heart and mind. Look at pictures, posts on social media, text messages, etc. Try to find out what’s happening behind the scenes in their life. Many times, the digital trail will give you quite a bit of insight and greater understanding.
  • Think through what it takes for you to be open, honest, and vulnerable with someone. Then think through what it takes for your child to be open, honest, and vulnerable with you. Be that person when you talk with them. This will increase your chances of working together to overcome the situation and form an open, honest relationship of accountability for the future.
  • Don’t be surprised if your child gets defensive. Children can be persuasive when it comes to avoiding “trouble.” They’ll say things like, “I can’t believe you’d think I would do that!” Focus on ensuring that bullying behavior isn’t acceptable by anyone in your home, but also look for the “why” behind the behavior. Your relationship with them is about so much more than punishing them. Your goal is to guide them where you’d like to them be and lead them to make healthy choices.
  • Discuss cyberbullying with your child. Learn more about it by using reliable websites like Cyberbullying Research Center and stopbullying.gov, powered by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Look at examples. Watch stories of bullying victims. Ask them what they’ve seen on gaming sites, social media, or text messages between friends.  
  • Ask your child if they’ve ever done something that might be considered cyberbullying. Or if someone has cyberbullied them in the past. Help them think it through. You may talk about how easy it is to take things (especially in a text) the wrong way. Sent a message that made someone feel uncomfortable? Made fun of someone and hurt their feelings? 
  • Help your child think from the other person’s perspective. Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes to understand what they may be feeling can build empathy.
  • Talk about your family expectations regarding online conduct and how to treat people at all times. Set the standard. Your children must know precisely where you stand regarding any kind of bullying by them or toward them. Discuss and enforce consequences for engaging in any type of bullying behavior.

Many forms of cyberbullying violate schools’ zero-tolerance policy and may be addressed by a school counselor. If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to encourage your child to do as they’re asked at school and use the situation as an opportunity for growth instead of a form of punishment or unfairness. Let them know you’re on their team and you’re there to work through it with them.

Oh, and one more thing. 

Many bullies target others because of something they have experienced themselves, and they may have never told anyone else about it. Professional counseling may help your child work through issues that trigger the cyberbullying behavior. Your child needs to know you are there for them, and that you will do what it takes to support their growth as they navigate the world of online relationships. They won’t get it right every time, but they can move forward with your help.

Other helpful resources:

What to Do if Your Child is Being Cyberbullied

Here's what to look for and steps to take.

Cyberbullying has been on the rise for a while, but it has escalated during the pandemic. And it’s no wonder, due to virtual school, increased technology, and the flexibility parents have been giving to digital boundaries.

Our kids are highly active online. They’re digital natives. This is the world they are growing up in. Safety is always a concern, just like it was for us. I want my kids to be safe when they are online, so I want them to be aware of cyberbullying. 

Cyberbullying is using an electronic device to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another. It’s bullying in a digital world, and it can be done 24/7.

According to a recent Pew Research survey, 59% of U.S. teens have experienced some form of online harassment. Teens reported six common types of abusive behavior: 

  • Offensive name-calling
  • Spreading of false rumors
  • Receiving explicit images they didn’t ask for
  • Frequently being asked where they are, what they’re doing, or who they’re with by others
  • Physical threats
  • Having explicit photos of them shared without their consent

As parents, we need to proactively watch for signs of cyberbullying. Ninety percent of teens surveyed believe cyberbullying is a problem that affects people their age. A majority of them felt their parents were doing a good job addressing online harassment. Let’s keep it up.

Signs of cyberbullying

Here are some signs that your child is a victim of cyberbullying. They: 

  • Suddenly stop using their computer, tablet, or phone, even though they’ve always enjoyed it.
  • Seem nervous when receiving a text or notification.
  • Shut down their devices when family members approach them.
  • Allude to bullying without directly saying they are being bullied. Maybe your child talks about drama at school or their lack of friends.
  • Withdraw from technology, friends, or family.

If you see these signs, don’t just assume they act this way because they are teens. While that may be the case, something deeper may be happening.

Steps you can take to help your child

The first step is to talk to your child. As parents, we know our kids best. When you see a change in their attitude or demeanor, ask some questions. If you sense they’re being bullied but won’t open up about it, share a story from your childhood about when you were bullied. Your child’s safety is your top priority. You want to make sure they feel safe and know they can talk to you about anything. You both want the same result: to stop cyberbullying.

If you don’t already have ground rules in place for technology usage, now’s the time to start. You should be able to see where and who your child has been interacting with online.

If you find evidence of cyberbullying, get help. Here’s what the Cyberbullying Research Center recommends:

  • Collect evidence. Print out or take screenshots of cyberbullying instances.
  • Work with the school. Talk to the administrator about their bullying policy.
  • Do not contact the bully’s parents. While this is often our first thought, we don’t want to escalate the situation. We, as parents, usually take our child’s side and don’t like to listen to accusations about their behavior.
  • Contact the content provider. Websites, apps, gaming networks, etc., all have terms of service that cyberbullying violates. It’s in all those disclaimers that we often just click “I have read and agree” without reading. (Guilty!) Even if your child can’t identify their bully, the provider can do something about it.
  • If necessary, seek counseling. Remember your child’s well-being is the top priority. Bullying can have long-lasting effects. Speaking to a counselor may help them.
  • If there are physical threats, contact the police. It may be an empty threat, but do not wait to find out.  

Cyberbullying can be a severe threat to your child’s well-being. They deserve the opportunity to learn and develop without fear. The best step you can take is to be proactive. Be engaged in their digital lives and build an environment of trust and transparency.

More resources:

B.C. (Before COVID) plenty of us lived life at a frenetic pace and had resigned ourselves that it would always be that way. Fast forward to COVID lockdown and a forced stop. We actually had room to breathe in our lives whether we liked it or not. Being forced to taste the simple life for a few months reminded a lot of us how much we actually longed for a less frenzied existence. With things opening back up, some folks are trying to figure out how to keep a little bit of that margin in their life.

Maybe right now you’re already missing your quarantine life. Perhaps you’re finding that, once again, you don’t have time to do the things you want to do. If this is true for you, you don’t have to settle. 

Here are five simple things that can help you reclaim or keep margin in your life moving forward.

1. Decide what you don’t want to pick back up.

Make a list of all the things you and your family were participating in B.C. Decide now what you’re not willing to add back into your schedule. Making the decision ahead of time will make it easier to say no as opportunities arise. Think of it as being proactive instead of reactive when it comes to knowing what your priorities are and sticking to them even under pressure. This will require you to keep your guard up so you can recognize when something is encroaching on the boundaries you’ve set.

2. Schedule quiet time just like you would schedule any other appointment.

It’s that important. Living life in a whirlwind leaves you feeling empty and exhausted, not to mention a hot mess when it comes to relating with the ones you love. Whether it’s early in the morning, the middle of your day or right before you go to bed, taking a few minutes to reflect can make a world of difference in how you go through your day. It can also impact how you rest at night. 

3. Intentionally insert 15-30 minute breaks throughout the day to breathe and be mindful.

Avoid the temptation to schedule yourself back to back in order to make the most of every waking minute. Take a walk, do some deep breathing or light a candle. Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, listen to calming music, read, or do something else that will allow you to take a break from the chaos. Inserting buffer zones into your day will actually give you energy and help you be more creative. Plus, it’ll make you more effective and present with the ones you love. 

You might find it helpful to literally block out times on your schedule for this. Blocking the time off can lessen the temptation to put something in that time period because it isn’t available. If you are a high energy person who likes to be productive, this may feel like time wasted. Here’s a challenge for you, though. Try this for a whole month. Then assess your energy level, what you have been able to accomplish and the state of your relationships. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results. Just sayin’.

4. Limit your social media intake.

This is a time vacuum and we all know it. It robs us of time with our kids, spouse and friends. If you don’t believe it, the next time you jump on social media “for just a minute,” time yourself. See how long you end up scrolling to see what everybody else is doing. Limiting your time on social media will give you some margin to live your own life and pay attention to the ones you love and your own needs. (And if others have your full attention, you won’t be distracted and miss something important!)

5. Create transitions and hard stops.

There is something to be said for the impact of routines and rituals when it comes to incorporating margin into our lives. Intentional transitions help your brain know the difference between work, play and rest. If possible, have set start and stop times for work, time with family and friends, and time to take care of yourself. 

It can be helpful to prepare for the next day before you go to bed each night, too. Go over your to-do list, decide what you will wear for work (even if you are working from home) and other activities, take a look at the schedule, plan meals, etc. For example, the act of preparing to be in work mode helps your brain know you are making a transition. At the end of your work day, changing into “play” clothes is another transition that tells your brain it is doing something different. It’s a physical exercise that mentally prepares you for being fully present.

As one who has struggled with margin in life, I can tell you it’s very easy to fall back into old habits. Don’t beat yourself up. It happens. The best way forward is to remind yourself of your goal, identify where the breach happened and keep moving ahead.

Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels

You’ve just spent 30 minutes scrolling through social media. Everyone looks happy outside having fun. Due to our current uncertainty, you aren’t ready to head out to a restaurant or go on summer vacation. How do you feel right now? Envious? Frustrated? Down? You need to remember four important things about what you see on social media to keep things in perspective in your life.

We used to keep diaries or maybe a journal. Now we post. What was once an act of private, intimate self-reflection has become, for many, a project involving not only mutual inspection but judgment, but has our perception of ourselves been clarified or just twisted and quantified by social media?

Instead of a diary or journal being used to provide insights into ourselves, social media has provided us with an avenue to peek into other people’s lives while it affords about 250 million other Americans and 3.5 billion people worldwide the same opportunity to see our own life, share opinions on it, and “rate” our life via Likes, Shares, Friends, Followers, and Retweets.

That’s a big stage to put your life on. And research shows we have a natural inclination to compare.

You should try not to compare yourself or your life to what you see on social media

(I get it—it’s so hard…)

Here’s why you shouldn’t play the comparison game… 

1. What you see on social media isn’t reality. 

Whether you are looking at Kim Kardashian West with 181M followers on Insta or your friend with 81, there are definite degrees of unreality you need to remember. From filters and retouching apps to lighting and staging to the fact that you are seeing a snapshot of a moment in time and not a “video” of someone’s real-life—PLEASE remind yourself not to compare yourself, your family, and your quality of life to what you see on social media. You are comparing someone’s “highlight reel” to your own “behind the scenes footage.” It’s just not a fair comparison. It’s also a comparison that depressed individuals are about 3 times more likely to make. 

Dr. Brian Primack, the Director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh put it best: “People who engage in a lot of social media use may feel they are not living up to the idealized portraits of life that other people tend to present in their profiles. This phenomenon has sometimes been called ‘Facebook depression.’” Instagram has been found by a number of studies to be the worst social media platform for your mental health.

Reality Check:

Instagram.com/exposingcelebphotoshop

2. Social media is a rigged game. 

This is why you should never compare Likes, Followers, Shares, or Retweets. Social media platforms exist to make money. They want you to come back for more. Just like Vegas. The House always wins.

Brain science has shown that we get little dopamine squirts when we hop on social media. Feels good for a few seconds. Each platform is created to maximize that effect. (They know their brain research.) So, Instagram not showing you all your Likes right away is an effective way to keep you coming back to see how your post is doing. Twitter doesn’t take a few seconds to load new tweets because your connection is slow. It’s intentional. In casinos it’s called a “variable ratio schedule” or “the slot machine effect.” The idea is that an action is rewarded, but at various times. We get a little dopamine hit anticipating what content we will see. (Other social media apps do this, too.) Don’t let social media Vegas you. Don’t slide into addiction. (Check out this Business Insider article on how social media is rigged.) You are comparing yourself to “gamed” numbers.

With bots, fake accounts, people buying followers, and algorithms set against you, why would you compare your Followers, Likes, Shares, and Retweets with those of anybody else? Please don’t allow those numbers to make you feel bad about yourself or your life. Ignore ‘em and just see what your cousin is up to on social.

Reality Check: 

If you or your family had a great experience, took a pic, posted it, and it didn’t get “the response” you hoped for, YOU STILL HAD A GREAT EXPERIENCE. That’s what’s important.

3. Nobody has changed someone’s mind on social media.

Actually, this isn’t exactly true. Among men and women 30 years and older, 12% and 11% respectively reported changing their mind on a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media in the past year. But you get the point. You have about a 1 in 10 chance to change a mind with your flaming post. Is comparing your beliefs worth the stress and anxiety? People have different opinions. Keep moving.

So, when you compare your beliefs and opinions to other people on social media, what does it make you feel? Anger? Stress? Frustration? Anxiety? Bitterness? About half of U.S. adults say talking about politics with people they disagree with on social media is “stressful and frustrating.”

You investing time, energy, and emotions into a debate that isn’t going to change anyone’s mind is just setting you up to be aggravated. This didn’t dawn on me until the time my wife asked me why I was still awake and I quipped, “Because someone is wrong on the internet!” Hearing myself say those words out loud made me realize that not only was I on a fool’s errand, but I was losing precious sleep. Comparing your political beliefs and stances on social or religious issues to other people’s is just not the best use of your time. Arguing about them with people is an even worse use of your time. Time to put the phone down.

Reality Check:

A study of Twitter use in America found that between 90-97% of political tweets were made by only 3-10% of Twitter users. That’s a handful of people with an ax to grind. Not letting them affect my day.

4. Because stress, anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are killers. 

There is a debate raging in research about social media: Does social media use cause stress, anxiety, and depression OR do stressed, anxious, depressed people use social media more?

While the eggheads research what comes first, the chicken or the egg, what is not open for debate is the correlation between social media use and negative mental health. Whether you feel like social media use causes you to feel negative things like anger, loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression or you turn to social media as a coping mechanism for those kinds of feelings, you should be concerned. Your mental health should be priority #1. 

If you suspect that your mental health is suffering because of your time spent online, 

DO SOMETHING.

Reality Check:

  • Unplug for a designated amount of time.
  • Set time limits on your phone for social media sites.
  • Suspend your social media accounts for a specific amount of time.
  • Challenge a friend to unplug with you and be each other’s support.
  • Keep your phone out of arm’s reach when possible.
  • Turn notifications off on your social media accounts.
  • Stop using your phone in bed. 
  • Try the 50/50 rule: No social media the last/first 50 minutes of your day.
  • Get professional help if necessary.

Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Social Media Use:

  • What need does my use of social media meet?
  • Do I catch myself comparing myself to what I see on social media?
  • How does my time on social media make me feel about myself?
  • How does my time on social media make me feel about my life, family, and friends?
  • Have I trained my brain to question statements and pics on social media?
  • Does it bother me when a post I make doesn’t get many Likes or Shares?
  • Can I recognize when I need to take a break from social media?

There is a lot for you to like and enjoy about social media—It is so important for you to stay in touch with family, friends, and co-workers who may be spread out across the country and the world. It’s cool for you to get a “peek” into the lives of some of your favorite personalities and potentially even interact with them. You can be inspired and encouraged by stories and pictures that people have shared on social media. You can spot the positives and the negatives!

But the only person you need to compare yourself to is your best self.

Image from Unsplash.com

It was a picture-worthy moment. She snapped a pic and promptly posted it to Instagram with the words, “My love! #alwaysandforever #makesmehappy”

Then the unexpected happened. Her “love” turned to her and said, “Did you post that?” Enthusiastically, she said “Yes!” He said, “You didn’t even ask.” A bit puzzled, she said, “It’s a great picture of you. What’s the problem?” 

The problem was, he didn’t want his picture posted on social media.

Interestingly, this couple’s experience with social media isn’t uncommon. In plenty of relationships, one spouse uses social media as a way to express themselves. They love sharing about life in general. The other spouse might have a totally different posture toward social media. They limit what they post for the world to see. Maybe they aren’t on social media at all. They might even have mixed feelings about their spouse putting so much “out there.”

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

Social media has so many positives. It allows you to stay in touch with people you might not otherwise see or hear from. But, just like everything else, social media also has potential potholes. Social media can have a real negative impact on your marriage.

Whatever you post on social media, you’re inviting the world to see and pass judgment on via comments, likes, shares, etc. Without some understanding and agreement about what social media engagement looks like for you as a couple, this can be an ongoing area of conflict for any couple. The question for most couples is: How do you get to a place where you mutually agree?

Decide What Works for You as a Couple

It’s helpful to start out talking about what really matters. The ultimate goal would be for those who like to be on social media to be out there, but not at the expense of their marriage relationship. So, it’s helpful to think through what respect in marriage looks like when it comes to posting on social media. Have a conversation about what kind of boundaries you want to have with posts on social media.

Topics to Cover:

  • How do you make sure what you post doesn’t reflect badly on your spouse or embarrass them? Don’t forget about your kids and your employer(s).
  • If you want to post a picture, do you agree to ask permission first?
  • When it comes to sharing political views, are there certain things you agree to stay away from?
  • What about personal family information? How much is too much? 
  • Are certain topics totally off-limits to post about?
  • What about exes and old flames? What about the opposite sex in general? (Defer to what makes your spouse secure in your love.)
  • How much time will you spend on social? (Discuss some tech-free times and zones. This creates space for the conversations that keep you connected.)
  • If you’re having a disagreement with your spouse, is putting it out there for everybody to see ok? What if you’re “asking for a friend?”
  • How will you guard against the comparison game — comparing everyone else’s marriage highlight reel to your real life?

Social media is a well-entrenched part of our culture. In your efforts to keep your marriage healthy, perhaps the best thing you can do is pause for a minute and ask yourself, “Is what I am about to post potentially harmful to my marriage?” If the answer is yes, hit cancel and move on. It’s pretty unlikely that any post is more important than being on the same page with the one you love.

Image from Unsplash.com

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!

Image from Unsplash.com

Families across the globe are about to find themselves spending lots of unsolicited time together due to the coronavirus pandemic. As I peruse through social media, talk to friends, and even think about my own experience with 7 kids in the house, there is plenty of anxiety, fear, and consternation over this one simple question, “What am I going to do with these kids all day?” Fortunately, there are many, many resources being provided to help parents answer that question. It might be time for a family temperature check.

The question I want to pose is, “How do we as parents, we as couples, keep from losing our minds while we are being asked to stay cooped up in our homes with these energy abundant children?

You’re going to have the opportunity to be more irritated, more frustrated, and angrier than ever. 

Let’s not spend our energy trying to figure out how to prevent the inevitable. That’s just setting yourself up for more frustration. Let’s plan for how we will respond in a way that does not ruin this unique opportunity we have to grow as a family. 

Before we get into the hamster wheel of just trying to survive each day, take some time each day with your significant other and maybe your children as well and do a temperature check. As a family, take a moment and ask one another, “How are you doing?” How are you feeling?” “What do you need?” “How is all this time together affecting you?” “What bothers you the most right now?” Listen to their answers and share the effects each day is having on you. 

It’s okay to acknowledge the difficulties.

This is a good time to hear if Mom is feeling overwhelmed. Dad may be feeling helpless. Your daughter may be feeling restricted. Your son may be about ready to shut down and shut everyone else out. And your dog may be the one absorbing it all. 

This daily family temperature check takes into account that this is new territory for us all. The uncertainty of the economy, of school, of our way of life as we know it can cause us to react in ways that we are unfamiliar with because we can’t always readily relate it to a past experience. 

Instead of just forcing our way through it, let’s learn how to talk our way through it. Let’s figure out as a family how to share our thoughts and emotions. Let’s learn how to address one another’s needs even if they can’t be met because of the circumstances. Let’s not act as though we know what to do as a family unit. Let’s figure it out together. Understanding the effect it’s having on one another in real-time is a good first step.

This is an opportunity to take advantage of the intended beauty of relationship, of the connections we have with those closest to us. If we can learn to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the people in our own home, imagine how that may translate outside those doors when we get to leave the home again.

For more parenting resources during COVID-19, click here!

Image from Unsplash.com

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.”

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 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.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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