By Tracey Dowdy
I grew up in a rural community back in the 80’s. For me, connecting with my friends outside school mainly consisted of hours on a harvest gold, rotary dial, attached-to-the-wall phone. The greatest day of my life was when my father bought an extra-long cord so I could sit on the stairs and get what little privacy is available to someone with six brothers and sisters.
Kids today – for better or worse – have 24/7 access to their friends and peers. Passing notes in class means shooting a text and social media means your kids are hyper-aware of who is hanging out with who…when they are stuck at home doing nothing.
For many teens, that translates into a lot of stress. A study by the University of Glasgow found that teens often felt a constant need to be online and connected. Furthermore, the strain of the emotional investment manifested itself in poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and increased levels of anxiety and depression.
If you feel your child is showing any of these signs or you are concerned about changes in behavior, these tips from professional family therapist Roy Dowdy can help you manage those stress levels and help them find a balance.
Start with a conversation. Don’t come in with an agenda, just listen and let the child direct the conversation. Ask open ended questions like, “You seem stressed. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?” or “What do you think will happen if you don’t respond to a text right away?”
Help them set boundaries. Part of parenting is teaching your children self-control, whether that’s choosing to have an apple instead of ice cream or stepping away from Snapchat at 11pm.
Be mindful not to judge. Being immersed in someone’s Instagram account or being obsessed with the latest Snapchat filter may seem absurd to us but did your parents ever really appreciate your obsession with Alan Longmuir from the Bay City Rollers? (Sorry, that got personal.) Social media is how your kids are connecting with their peers and just because we don’t value it doesn’t mean it’s not important to them.
Help them find real-world ways to connect. Social media isn’t going anywhere. The key is to help your child find ways to manage relationships in the real world. Challenge them to leave their phone in their locker, in their bag, or face down on the table and engage in face-to-face conversation. Make sure you’re modeling that behavior by having that kind of conversation with them.
Remember peer pressure is a big deal. Do you remember what it was like to be 14 and be torn between the agony of “I’m hideous, don’t look at me!” and “Ugh, why is everyone ignoring me?” Emotions and reactions are often oversized for teenagers, and helping them learn how to manage their reactions to what they see, don’t see, or feel hurt by on social media is a significant part of the maturity process.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.