Camas, WA — During this past weekend’s Camas Wellness Festival, event organizers held a 90-minute panel called “Your Teen’s Secret Life at School and Outside Your Home” in which they addressed questions about social media addiction, online bullying, effects of technology in the classroom, and when to give a child a smart phone.
Panel members Kimberly Berry, Alan Chan, and Jennifer Ireland answered questions. Berry is the founder of Being UnNormal, a consulting and advocacy group for mental health issues. Chan has worked in Clark County for six years providing services to at-risk youth with chronic and complex mental health needs. Ireland has a Master’s degree in K-12 Special Education, and is a 22-year veteran public school teacher (at Skyridge Middle School).
We report their responses to each question.
Question: Can social media be addictive?
Berry: “Yes, of course, anything can be addictive. We know that teens are spending a lot of time on their phones. Teens that spend five hours or more a day on their smart phones are more prone to be depressed. Ten percent of teens check their phone at night at least ten times per night. Chances are they’re checking it when you don’t realize it.”
Chan: “In my experience, the social media and cell phone usage is a huge conflict in their lives. The phones and social media become a social status among kids.”
Ireland: “Addiction comes with all the time children are spending on these devices. Self-esteem and confidence relies upon what they see on social media. It’s problematic.”
Question: How does social media affect mental health?
Berry: “We see the escalation of bullying being carried into the home. It also leads to isolation.
They start to get anxious about not measuring up to false standards.”
Chan: “I think the concern I have with social media is that it creates a false reality. Often times we only see all the great things. You feel like you’re missing out. It’s the fear of missing out. You feel like you’re different, like you can’t connect, like you’re a bit of an outcast.”
Ireland: “We can’t shelter them completely from it. We make sure we limit how they use social media, and monitor their usage. Parents should be on all the accounts. We have to be with them step by step, and start them with training wheels. Instagram is safer than some of the others. On Snapchat, things disappear. As a parent, look at their posts together. Have conversations with your children about the posts.
“Social media is a photo album of all the good things in life, and doesn’t represent all the reality, like the negatives and struggles. You can’t put it away, it’s everywhere now. Talk to your child about it. It’s for their health.”
Chan: “Kids have become so reliant and dependent on social media to connect with friends that it’s hard to put away.”
Berry: “I encourage parents to look beyond posts, and to look at DM’s and IM’s. Dig into social media accounts. There is often a lot of stuff happening on the back end. The social media impact on young girls is they are comparing themselves, which is creating more eating disorders. Remember that our girls are comparing themselves to the unattainable. As parents, we have control over social media, so take control of that. You are empowered.”
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Question: What is online bullying?
Berry: “People send negative messages to our kids, and it’s coming from other kids. Half of teens have reported they’ve been bullied online. Twenty-five percent of those reports are coming through their cell phones. One in five children get sexual messages.
“Eighty percent of teens use cell phones regularly. The phone is always with you. It’s in your house. Your house is supposed to be a safe place, but now the bear is everywhere. You’re constantly feeling anxious. It’s really problematic because it is destroying our children’s hearts and hope. We need to responsibly reduce access. Ask your kids about whether they’ve been bullied at school.”
Ireland: “If you ask your child the R’s of bullying they will you. It happens in the halls and in the lunchroom, but the online bullying is becoming more prevalent. The kids have gotten really good at doing this in the school setting.”
Question: In general, how has school life changed in the last 10 years?
Ireland: “I feel like I’ve been in school my whole, as a student and teacher (she teaches 6th grade).
It’s changed drastically, and the big shift is the increased anxiety and mental health.
It’s a whole different ball of yarn with increases in standardized testing. As a kid, I don’t remember hearing about my results, and now these standardized tests are stressing kids out. She’s concerned about the pressure. Some kids might need five years to graduate from high school, and they shouldn’t be counted less or as not being successful. The stress of all that goes back into the education system. The teacher success is being tied to those scores. They’ve cut out music, art and recess in the middle schools. They don’t get to move, they don’t get to be outside. All those coupled with social media is causing problems. Lack of food and sleep contribute to their pressures and stresses.
“Too many parents aren’t happy with less than a 3.5 GPA. They get upset when a child gets 96% on a math test. Parents put unrealistic expectations on their kids, and that shows up in the classroom. What can we do to make good enough good enough?”
Your Teen’s Secret Life Panel spent 90 minutes discussing a variety of mental health issues.
Question: How as parents can we manage the academic stress they’re facing?
Ireland: “Talk to your kids. Talk to them about how to manage their time. Talk about their schedule and make sure they schedule in down time. Exercise and fitness are key. Cultivate friendships that aren’t online friendships. Ask what they’re going to do when they hang out.
“Make sure your child knows they need to make good, positive connections with teachers or counselors. Parents need to reach out to their teachers.”
Chan: “People learn in different ways. Be attuned to barriers and challenges that kids have.”
Berry: “We can’t blame our teachers. We need to approach teachers as allies, and not obstacles.”
Ireland: “Kids need to have chores. It seems so little, but having a job contributes to making a home run more efficiently. Praise them for the work they do. The satisfaction of a job well done is something many kids don’t have today.”
Question: At what age is a smartphone appropriate?
Ireland: “13 or older. It seems to be a middle school milestone. It’s better for their health to wait until 8th or 9th grade. It’s a major distraction at middle school and it’s not healthy for them. Too many 6th graders have cell phones. Sixth graders don’t need smartphones. There are different types of phones you can get. Give them a simpler phone at first and see how they take care of it.”
Berry: “Phones are a status symbol. It’s an intentional projection coming from home. It creates problems in the schools. Find out how do they feel when they’re away from the phone from an extended period of time.”
Teachers in the room agreed that smartphones for kids under 13 isn’t a good idea, and that it leads to more kids leading a secret life that parents aren’t aware of.
To learn more, visit www.CamasWellnessFestival.com