I attended an interview with Nancy Jo Sales about her book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, at the 2016 Woodstock Writers' Festival. Her research, based on conversations with over 200 teen girls from across the country representing all different demographics, painted a very disturbing picture of the world our teenage girls are living in:
- Over 70% of teens have smart phones which means they have access to the internet which in turn means they have easy access to pornography.
- Most teens are on their phones all the time - in school, in bed at night, when they go to the bathroom, while you are trying to talk to them, and while they are trying to do their homework.
- They are in instant access with each other all the time - living in a perpetual state of staccato interruptions.
- There are virtually no enforceable societal or parental controls short of depriving a child of a phone which then subjects them to rejection from their real and virtual friends.
- The popularity contests of childhood are on-line now and revolve around how many "likes" you get. A low number of "likes" typically translates into low social status, and possible shaming and bullying. A high number of "likes" translates to popularity and the pressure to sustain your status.
As this young girl spoke with such certainty of her point of view, my heart hurt and was saddened and I was scared for her and this generation. As you will see, I hold a very strong opinion myself on the matter. But, what I would really like to come of this is not to make each other wrong, but rather to find a way to truly hear each other's concerns and evolve a cooperative response to this situation.
Here are my specific concerns:
- With an under-developed prefrontal cortex, a teenager's decision-making is less likely to successfully weigh outcomes, form judgments and control impulses and emotions. At the same time, they have a fairly well-developed nucleus accumbens (the area of the brain that seeks pleasure and reward). Throw in hormones and we have the perfect recipe for immediate gratification, thrill seeking, and impulse behaviors far outweighing careful consideration of potential consequences. As a result, teens are more susceptible to becoming addicted to nicotine, drugs, and cellphone use and engaging in rebellious and risky behaviors.
- The vulnerability of teens is intensified by the fact that as they move through the rite of passage that is their teenage years, the approval of their friends is increasing and eclipsing the value to them of parental approval.
- A confluence of the following forces has created an artificial secret world that is consuming
the time and mental focus of teens and subjecting them to risky, competitive behaviors:
--the popularity of social media among teens
--the normalization of Smart phone usage
--the easy exposure to pornography
--the influence of the Kardashian concept of female beauty<
-- the trend to up the ante and push the boundaries of sex and violence in visual media.
- What is being forfeited in this situation? Research shows teens are extremely deficient in face-to-face communication skills. What else are they missing out on in terms of personal growth and development, social skills, and academic discipline and learning? What about their stress levels?
- This is a gold mine for the technology and pornography industries who financially benefit - every click equals more money for them. Teen girls have come to believe it is normal and desirable to sex up their look. They don't know any other way to be that gives them access to so much social currency among their friends. Kids are addicted to accumulating "likes" and the more sexualized their visual content, the more "likes" they get. If that's not child pornography, I don't know what is!
- I worry about the peer pressure for girls to post nude photos and for boys to accumulate as many as possible. Have nude selfies become the baseball cards of this generation?
- Posting provocative selfies is not a demonstration of a teen girl's agency over her own body. Flirting with the forbidden might be thrilling, but it is far from a reflection of her power and love of her body. Putting herself on public display simply screams, "Look, everyone I'm sexy!" The reality is these girls are subjecting themselves and each other to body shaming - a game of who looks better than whom and who is being most provocative. They are also providing free pictures for porn sites. And guess what subject matter is most popular there? Teenage girls!
- When a girl gets a request from a boy for a nude photo, she might think it's because he likes her. Sadly, her nude photo will probably just give some boy bragging rights for putting another notch on his belt. Stimulating each other's raging hormones is not empowering, it is a dangerous game. Off-line, it often escalates to heartless sexual acts that cheapen their self identity and the potential beauty of sexual expression.
- With the amplification of a sexualized sense of self coupled with the external search for validation, what chance do these children have of learning how to deeply connect with themselves and others and to develop the life coping skills they will need as whole people? I wish these kids could know that they are so much more than what is portrayed in a nude photo on the internet. I wish they could be as motivated to deeply know themselves as they are to gathering superficial "likes" online.
Where do we go from here? How can we, as a society, help these children? I welcome your thoughts on this.
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Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment: What Is It?
Teen Social Media Addiction is a behavioral disorder in which teens become so preoccupied and obsessed with social media that it distracts them from engaging in the real world, and in turn, causes harmful effects on multiple aspects of their lives. While many teenagers engage in some form of social media (including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, and video games) and consider it a daily part of their lives, Teen Social Media Addiction is characterized by the level of this use being so extreme that it negatively affects the relationships and responsibilities in the teens’ lives.
What It Looks Like
The two most dominating characteristics of Teen Social Media Addiction are the large amount of time that teens spend on social media and the underlying reasons why they’re doing so. Teens with Social Media Addiction have an almost constant nagging desire to check updates, write statuses, share a picture, play a game, or engage in their social media world in some way. They’re often much more interested and participatory in this online world than they are in the real world that they inhabit with actual people, in having real conversations, and in undergoing real experiences. Along these same lines, another negative effect of such overuse of social media is that teens become more willing and skilled at socially interacting online rather than in person. Especially considering that adolescence is a time when the development of social skills is especially valuable and necessary in their lives, teens may likely be harming their in-person social skills by retreating to the online world, choosing to interact in the cyber realm rather than developing real social skills. This can, in turn, hurt the teen’s ability to function well and succeed in required social settings, like time at school and making friends during extracurricular activities.
It’s also become common for teens to actually view and take part in their real experiences with a concentration on how it can “appear” in the social media realm, as opposed to just being present in what they’re doing. For instance, teens might be more dedicated to appearing like they’re having fun in a photo at the beach than actually spending their time at the beach, enjoying it. While some level of this desire to record their experience is understandable, too much of this concentration becomes yet another way for teens to be distracted from the present moment and it causes them to search constantly for a way of convincing an audience of a certain self-image. For so many adolescents that already experience this time of life as being full of pressures to be “good enough” in so many different ways and who struggle with understanding their own identities, we find that the overuse of social media is distracting and confusing to experiencing their own lives honestly as well as discovering their identities in an authentic way.
Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment
The first and most primary function of Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment is to reduce the amount of time that teens spend on social media. This may look different for different teens, but will be implemented according to the teen’s specific situation. By helping to limit and restrict the amount of time teens spend interacting in the social media realm, it automatically helps to reduce the amount of time they spend preoccupied and distracted from engaging in the real world. Therapists simultaneously begin working with teens to evaluate and address what are the underlying reasons, triggers, and beliefs connected to this overuse of social media, as well as the negative effects which this overuse has had.
As teens begin to make the connections between their overuse of social media and things like strained relationships, trouble in school, and a constant feeling of being distracted and anxious, therapists can lead them toward the bigger, more underlying things that are at play. In this sense, Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment often overlaps and intersects with other treatment the teens might be engaging in, sometimes for things like a Mood Disorder or Substance Abuse struggles. Gradually, therapists want to help teens gain an awareness to make the connections between all different areas of their lives, so that they understand that their actions have consequences that may extend beyond their current awareness. This integration of Teen Social Media Addiction Treatment into the teens’ overall treatment plans is exemplary of our holistic approach to all Teen Substance Abuse and Mental Disorder treatment.
How can I keep my teen from developing unhealthy habits of social media?
One of the most important and helpful things you can give to your teens, despite all of their insistence against it, is structure. Though adolescents often insist and battle parents for more freedom and independence, in truth, it’s often too much of their own freedom that leads them into struggles. Providing some reasonable limitations on our teens’ social media time, including cell phone time, is one great way to help encourage them to enjoy visiting that online world, while still remaining alive in this one.