How Technology Effects the Brain and Teens

More and more, teens are developing anxiety and depression around technology and social media sites.  They are afraid to disconnect.  “What if someone posts something bad about me?”

In an age where teens are trying to identify who they are and are trying on different roles, teens are able to create an image for themselves online they feel they need to uphold.  If they don’t continue to post pictures of themselves partying, then who will others think they are?

Kids are presenting with worry when someone doesn’t get back to them with a text right away.  “Are they mad at me?  Did I say something wrong?”  Teens reread what they wrote over and over and then go over it with another friend.  It can become tortuous.

Technology can dictate their moods.  If they get positive feedback from their peers, it is a good day.  If someone posts something remotely negative, it can ruin it.  It then impacts the relationships around them.  Fights with siblings and parents ensue.

The article featured  in July 16, 2012 edition of Newsweek titled “iCrazy: Panic. Depression. Psychosis. How Connection Addiction is Rewiring Our Brains” discussed just how bad things are getting for many in the digital age including an increase in people suffering from anxiety, depression, psychotic episodes, PTSD, and ADHD.   It also noted how even minimal time online is impacting how our brain works.

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. addresses further signs and symptoms in her article Electronic Screen Syndrome: An Unrecognized Disorder?  Electronic Screen Syndrome and the rise of mental disorders in children.  She looks at how stress from “screen time” impacts our nervous system which then leads to an inability to regulate and tolerate stress and then manifests in a variety of symptoms, including irritability, poor grades, and insomnia to name a few.

If you have a teen consumed by media, it may be time to consider how to intervene.  With teens, providing them information about how media is affecting their brain and mood could be an avenue when it seems impossible to pry that screen from their fingertips.  Leave an article on the kitchen table.  Listen to a podcast on your way to the store.  Set limits around when media is not to be used, like at mealtimes or when having company.

I know it is tough to figure out what to do with teens.  Just remember, setting an example and giving them the power to make their own choices, whether we agree or disagree is all part of developing.  We can guide them through with information and setting healthy limits.More and more, I see teens coming to my office with anxiety and depression around technology and social media sites.  They are afraid to disconnect.  “What if someone posts something bad about me?”

Summer, School, and Social Anxiety

It is the halfway point between summer and when school begins, and I know many parents are eager for August to arrive.  What I have noticed is many children and teens are not ready to return.  It’s not for the reasons one might expect, like sleeping in, later curfew, or less responsibilities.

Anxiety.  

Many students have worries about school that are beginning to show up now.  Homework, pressure, college, GPA, workload, and schedule are among some of the concerns.  But for many children, it goes beyond the logistics.

Social anxiety among youth is at its highest.  It comes in many forms from being left out to being directly targeted by peers and anything in between.  It is a real life daily struggle for some children, and the worry about it can begin as early as now.

The thought of burying oneself in a book during lunch time or hiding out in the library is a reality for many teens and children.  They think they are the only one who is feeling this ostracization but I can assure you, they are not.

Middle school and high school can be lonely places for those not enmeshed in a clique.  Even for those with a group, it can feel just as lonely going along with the crowd when who they really are is unable to show.

It is important for kids to have a safe place to talk about their experiences and really be heard and honored for what they would like to happen.  A teen’s parent going to talk with the principal may not be the approach their child would want.  Maybe they simply want their parent to listen.  Talk with your child about what they are needing.

Sometimes kids just need time to process their experiences.  As a parent, you can empower them to take the right steps in dealing with the anxiety peer groups or lack thereof can bring.  See if there is anyone on campus who your child feels supported by and encourage them to talk with them.

Obviously if teasing is moving to bullying, it is crucial to talk with your child and the school about what is occurring.  Lastly, encourage your kid to join a social group at school and if the school is not providing one, encourage them to get one.  Another place to locate social groups for kids in the community is at Psychology Today.  There are also other social groups to consider, including art, chess, spanish, and yoga classes to name a few.

AFFIRMATION
I can help my child each day by simply listening.

Seriously? Seriously.

You and your kid just had an amazing afternoon together. First a picnic lunch then a day at the pool. You laughed and smiled. No whining. No complaining.  Good old fashioned fun.

As you return home, reflecting on all the fun you had and begin putting away your things, it happens. You see your child moving their mouth and staring at you with their hands dangling by their side.

“They can not possibly be saying this,” you think as you gaze at them in a dream like trance.

“I’m bored,” your child states matter of factly.

Seriously? Seriously. The dreaded B-O-R-E-D word. Parents cannot stand it. Children love to use it.

It seems to be the word of this generation.  I hear it used out of context to describe situations that have nothing to do with being bored.  “I stole a phone because I was bored,” a child once said.  I wondered how that even made sense.  Read, play, eat, sleep, that makes sense.

Parents can get triggered so easily by those 5 letters. They have a room full of stuff with nothing to do. Seriously? Seriously.

So what do you do when your little gem says they are bored.  Let me offer you a few ideas:

1.  Give them 3 options to choose from.  Sometimes kids just need help getting started.

2. Give them a challenge.  I have a box of cardboard odds and ends and will challenge kids to design something.  Have them set up an obstacle course and time themselves regarding how fast they can do it in 5 trials.

3. Dance.  If they like to do this, perfect. Or threaten them they will have to dance with you if they don’t find something to do.

4. Take them in their room and show them all the wonderful things they have to enjoy. If they still say they have nothing, begin to pick something up and let them know it will be going to Goodwill since it is something they no longer use. Watch how fast they learn to love some of their own things again.

5. Take time to connect. Bake some cookies, paint, read a story together, look through some baby pictures, take a walk, go on the swings.

6. Ignore. Older kids will often say they are bored to get a rise out of you. It is ok for kids to be bored and figure out what to do. Just keep an eye on them to make sure what they choose is legal!

AFFIRMATION
I remain grounded when triggered by others.