Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: anxiety

  • Post Featured Image

    What You Need to Know About Smartphones, Teens and Depression

    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.

  • Post Featured Image

    Dealing With Anxiety After Tragedy

    Whether you were actually in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Falcon Ridge or another city when shootings took place, constantly watching the media coverage can cause you to experience the very real phenomenon of vicarious traumatization.

    “What people often don’t realize is you don’t have to be present at a traumatic event to be traumatized,” says licensed clinical social worker, Pam Johnson. “Just hearing something can create a traumatic event in your mind. Add the visual of repeatedly watching the news segments and you can create some real anxiety. The deeper mind does not differentiate what is happening in real time and what happened in Texas to someone else.”

    Think about the last time you watched a scary movie and you realized your heart rate increased and you became jumpy and tense. Your body reacts physically because your mind does not know you are not actually part of the scene you are watching.

    “People have to be careful how much they expose themselves to because it can become toxic,” Johnson says. “The human mind cannot be in a creative problem-solving mode and a fight-or-flight mode at the same time. It is like trying to put a car in drive and reverse at the same time.

    "If we want a productive response to what has happened, individuals have to calm themselves down and get their emotions under control. Then we can have effective dialogue and begin asking questions such as, ‘How have we gotten here? What can we do to get ourselves out of this place?’”

    While emotions are understandable, they are often not helpful. If you feel them, be mindful of them, but don’t let them direct your behavior. If people run around angry and frightened, the problems will only get worse.

    Johnson offers a few tactics to help you constructively deal with your anxiety:

    • Limit the amount of time immersed in media. If you just cannot pull yourself away, take a pulse check – literally. If your pulse is high, stop watching. Be mindful of your feelings. Are you angry? Anxious? Tense?

    • Take action to reverse the anxiety. Go for a walk. Meditate. Get involved in constructive conversation with others. Pray.

    • Focus on things over which you have control. Get adequate rest. Eat healthy. Watch sitcoms or movies that don’t aggravate stress. Do things that are calming and soothing to you. Create an emergency plan with your family. Discuss what you would do if you heard gunfire in a public place.

    “Most importantly, I would tell people to learn to talk so people will listen and listen so people will talk,” Johnson says. “This is a crucial need in our society. We need to learn how to listen for the need and the heart of another person.

    "It is a trait of human beings to look at differences in other human beings and attach a negative meaning to the differences. This has been a protective measure in humans since the dawn of time. Hundreds of years ago humans needed this defense mechanism. Today it is not helpful. We have to remember, it is not us against them. It is all of us against violence.

    “The only way we can move beyond this problem is when people are willing to listen. It is through listening that the deeper mind has the time to discern that the person might think differently, but that does not necessarily make them dangerous.”

    While no one can predict future incidents, everyone can do something to help make a significant positive difference. What will you do?

  • Post Featured Image

    What Teens Are Saying About Social Media and Their Parents

    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!