Articles for Parents

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    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.

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    The Truth About Cyberbullying

    True or False?

    • Cyberbullying victims are at increased risk for traditional bullying victimization, substance use and school problems.

    • Victims of cyberbullying suffer from anger, frustration and sadness.

    • Most victims of cyberbullying tell an adult about their experience.

    • Victims report that they are primarily cyberbullied by strangers.

    If you answered “true” for the first two statements and “false” for the last two, you are correct.

    News stories abound about young people and bullying. One of the most widely-known incidents is about Megan Meier, a then 13-year-old from Missouri. She became online friends with a person she thought was a new boy in town. The “friend” was actually a group of young people and adults who plotted to humiliate Megan because of a broken friendship with another girl. When Megan discovered the truth, she became distraught and later committed suicide.

    Cyberbullying is defined as using the computer or other electronic devices to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another. It most commonly takes place on the Internet among students from a given school or neighborhood.

    Researchers and co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, collected data from more than 15,000 youth regarding their personal cyberbullying experiences. They found that:

    • Five percent of the youth they interviewed claimed to be scared for their own safety.

    • On average, 25 percent of youth have been a victim of cyberbullying.

    • Among this percentage, mean or hurtful comments, and spreading rumors were the most common forms of cyberbullying.

    • More than half of study participants feel that cyberbullying is as bad as, or worse than bullying in real life.

    • 41 percent of victims do not tell anyone in their off-screen lives about their abuse, but 38 percent told an online friend.

    • 16 percent admitted to bullying another individual online.

    • Most of the bullying offenders said they consider bullying to be fun or instructive; such as a way to strengthen their victims.

    Your child uses cell phones, emails, instant messaging, websites, blogs, text messages and other methods to communicate electronically. All of them present a potential cyberbullying risk to your child.

    What Do Parents Need to Know?

    The impact of cyberbullying can be devastating. Cyber victimization can cause poor grades, emotional spirals, poor self-esteem, repeated school absences, depression and in some cases, suicide. These outcomes are similar to those of real-life bullying, except with cyberbullying there is often no escape.

    Young people used to be able to avoid the “bully” once school was out. Today's technology now makes it almost impossible to escape. Since few parents closely monitor their child’s digital use, it is far easier for bullies to get away with bullying online than in person. And as the quiz pointed out, kids rarely tell their parents about the bullying.

    What Can Parents Do?

    • Establish that all rules for interacting appropriately with people in real life apply online.

    • Explain what cyberbullying is and why it is unacceptable to bully or to allow bullying to continue.

    • Talk with your teen about the nature of REAL friendships.

    • Encourage your child to talk with you any time they believe they or someone they know is dealing with a bully.

    • Model appropriate technology use.

    • Write a technology contract that includes any form of technology used in your home.

    Cyberbullying can be a serious threat to the well-being of your child, but the best plan of attack is to be proactive. Being ignorant about technology in this day and age won’t cut it, so you'll want to educate yourself as well as your children. As the saying goes, information is power.

    For tips on parenting get our E-book "How to be a Guide for your Teen" Download Here.


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


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    Technology and Your Family

    Years ago, people actually had to get up to answer the phone, the computer occasionally used to write papers, and the television only had three channels.

    Now, people answer the phone everywhere, including the dinner table and the bathroom. While people write papers on computers, they often spend more time on Facebook or the Internet than actually accomplishing something.

    And only three channels? Those days are over. On-screen viewing options are virtually limitless.

    So how does all this technology impact families?

    • A 2010 American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey showed that 1 in 5 American divorces involve Facebook. And, 81 percent of divorce lawyers have reported a spike in cases that use social media for evidence.

    • One pastor even asked his congregants to quit using Facebook. Why? It's because he saw so many couples experiencing marital problems because of connections to old flames through social media.

    • Research conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) showed that nearly a quarter of teens have communicated with a boyfriend or girlfriend hourly between midnight and 5 a.m. via cell phone or texting. One in 6 communicated 10 or more times an hour through the night.

    • Many experts claim that texting contributes to sleep deprivation because most kids sleep with their phone within reach. It's hard for them to resist checking the notifications.

    • According to a 2010 Pew Internet study, fully 72% of all teens – or 88% of teen cell phone users — text. Among all teens, their frequent texting has now overtaken the frequency of every other common form of interaction with their friends, including face-to-face interactions. For example, teens use texting to enhance friendships, handle a conflict, begin and end romantic relationships and even to mediate difficult conversations.

    • The average person watches four hours of television daily, which equals six months of eight-hour days. 

    From family dinners and vacations to date nights and even Christmas morning, families are being slammed from every direction with technology, all in the name of staying connected. But, is staying connected with the outside world as important as staying connected with the people closest to you?

    Perhaps one of the best things we can do is truly connect with each other. Families who are engaged with each other actually do better in every area of life.

    Consider these questions:

    • Can you establish “no technology” time zones? For example, no cell phones or television at the dinner table – parents included. Maybe teens can leave phones in the kitchen at night and computers in public spaces. Perhaps time limits for social media could be helpful?

    • Would you rather your child participate in family game night or play a game on Xbox alone instead?

    • Is a family meal more constructive than family members eating on their own in front of a screen?

    • When your child applies for a job, will he be able to verbally communicate?

    Technology is a lot like money. Families can either learn how to control how much technology invades their world or they can let it control them. Which would you prefer?

    For tips on parenting, get our E-book, "How to be a Guide for your Teen." Download Here.


    Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!