Keep the Digital Experience a Positive One

We know all too well that the digital age is here to stay and that our children are growing up in a world very different than the one we knew. As a mom, I want to steer my children on a healthy path; one that basks in proactive measures rather than reactive. As someone that works in the area of social media, I know that it is not all negative. Social media is an avenue for people to connect, and see how other people live, to view other cultures as well as share their passions far beyond their own backyard. 

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But we also know of the downside. We have read the reports, and know that social media can also have a negative impact too. What is social media is doing to our physical and emotional state? The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned about the potential for negative effects of social media in young kids and teens, including cyber-bullying and "Facebook depression." 

· It’s Addictive: Facebook Addiction Disorder is a real thing. Affected people often exhibit neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, and mood modifying experiences.

· It Triggers More Sadness: The more we use it, the more unhappiness we experience. Rather than enhancing wellbeing as more frequent outside social media interactions do – it does the complete opposite. It conjures up social isolation in a way other solitary activities don’t. The more time people spent on these sites, the more socially isolated people perceive themselves to be – which is one of the worst things we can do physically and mentally to ourselves.

· It Leads to Jealousy: Constantly seeing images of friends, celebrities or peers online engaging in picture-perfect experiences can lead to damaging levels of jealousy. It’s normal to feel envious when you see such things here and there. But on social media, a platform that’s open 24/7, the saturation can lead to feelings of intense envy which further leads us to feeling depressed and frustrated with our own lives.

In-person communication has the natural consequences of seeing another individual’s reactions and nonverbal intentions. However, these natural indicators are not always a part of online communications. Online communications are not only reinforced to be immediate, but also may sometimes be posted with a feeling of depersonalization or lack of empathy. 

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Here are a few tips from Dr. Thomas Farmer, PsyD Department of Counseling & Health Psychology, Bastyr University to help combat the negative impact of social media.

1. Understanding the nuances of social media is one key for parents. Similar to how parents would have a conversation with their children at the dinner table, they should find routine time to have conversations with their children at the computer.

2. Rather than controlling teens actions online, parents should work to educate their children around good decision making. 

3. The best thing parents can do for their children is provide them with alternative prosocial experiences that will naturally allow them to put their phones down. We have some "Screen Free" activities HERE.

4. Understanding the types of communication through social media is key to helping a child develop a positive online presence. Parents should help children develop critical thinking skills in understanding high versus low context communication. Parents should encourage children to question various posts, and feel free to clarify, rather than react. Often parents and teachers promote self-regulation iby teaching kidss to wait a period of time before responding to an “anxiety-provoking” post. These “think before you act” skills need to be taught in an explicit manner. 

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Dr. Thomas Farmer adds that social behavior is naturally adaptive. Parents may not understand these new coping strategies that teens have developed given their online contextual worlds. While parents have significant anxiety and paranoia about their children’s online use, they should work to learn from their children to really understand how they are uniquely using social media. In most ways, issues of social media don’t develop from social media, but rather, social media is simply a new platform in which we can see issues of contemporary society. Parents should work away from protectionism and toward learning and literacy. This requires learning about their children’s patterns and tendencies, not in a one size fits all model, but rather, uniquely to their own children.

This is not a sponsored post. Thank you to Dr. Thomas Farmer, PsyD Department of Counseling & Health Psychology, Bastyr University for his collaboration.  

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