The Big Myth About Teenage Anxiety

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So what’s behind the idea that teenagers are increasingly worried and nervous? One possibility is that these stories are the leading edge of a wave of anxiety disorders that has yet to be captured in epidemiological surveys. Or maybe anxiety rates have risen, but only in the select demographic groups — the privileged ones — that receive a lot of media attention.

But it’s more likely that the epidemic is simply a myth. The more interesting question is why it has been so widely accepted as fact.

One reason, I believe, is that parents have bought into the idea that digital technology — smartphones, video games and the like — are neurobiologically and psychologically toxic. If you believe this, it seems intuitive that the generations growing up with these ubiquitous technologies are destined to suffer from psychological problems. But this dubious notion comes from a handful of studies with serious limitations.

 

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Should You Track Your Teen’s Location?

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Location tracking can, without question, damage the connection between parent and teenager. Research shows that adolescents who believe their parents have invaded their privacy go on to have higher levels of conflict at home. And teenagers who resent being trailed digitally sometimes disable location features, take pains to “spoof” their GPS, or leave their phones at friends’ houses to throw parents off their scent.

As a psychologist, I also worry that location tracking can confuse the question of who is mainly responsible for the safety of the roaming adolescent — the parent or the teenager? If parents decide against using location tracking, I encourage them to talk with their teenager about why.

Taking Away the Phones Won’t Solve Our Teenagers’ Problems

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…I’ve come to believe that conventional wisdom about the relationship between troubled kids and their favorite technology is wrong.

Although some research does show that excessive and compulsive smartphone use is correlated with anxiety and depression, there is a lack of direct evidence that devices actually cause mental health problems.

In other words, there simply does not yet exist a prospective longitudinal study showing that, all things being equal, teenagers who use smartphones more often or in certain ways are more likely than their fellows to subsequently develop mental illness.

In the meantime, we can’t just blame the machines. This is especially important because if smartphones aren’t a direct cause of teenagers’ mental health struggles, their use might instead be a crucial way in which these struggles are expressed. This calls for a different set of solutions.

Teens & Digital Self-Harm

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…there’s also a relatively new form of online bullying that’s beginning to flourish among teens called ‘digital self-harm.’ Digital self-harm is the act of secretly posting hurtful or bullying comments about yourself online. The reasons why teens engage in such behaviors are complicated but simply stated, digital self-harm gives teens an outlet for all the insecurities and self-loathing emotions they have been keeping in their heads.

In a way, it is a safety valve for teen emotions and insecurities. When teens use an alias to self-bullying on social media, they are using it as a way to reconcile their internal thoughts with the external perceptions of what others think of them. Digital self-harm, a form of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), is a way for teens to safely garner attention and receive messages of validation and emotional support from friends (Klonsky, et al., 2014).

 

The Digital Sex Lives of Young Gay Teenagers

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Gay kids, especially closeted ones, don’t necessarily have the opportunities for intimacy that straight kids do: classroom Valentines and first prom dates. So they go online. Though they may be looking for friends or boyfriends, they mostly find sex.

Should apps like Grindr be held accountable when minors use them? Dr. Elizabeth Englander, a psychologist and expert on the digital lives of minors, thinks yes: “It’s an ethical line and a no-brainer.”

I’m 17 And I Deleted All My Social Media. Here’s What Happened.

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Let me tell you this, social media is a whole different monster for a 17-year-old. Everyone my age is spending hours every day snapchatting, instagraming, facebooking — and whatever else.

If you’re not involved — you’re an outsider. You’re looked at as weird and stupid. A loser. You’ll struggle to get invited to events and people won’t want to be friends with you. Sad, but unfortunately that’s just the way things are.

Remember that one kid who was always chosen last to play games? That’s essentially how kids who don’t use social media are looked at.

 

Screens and Teens

ScreensTeens

Check out this 30 minute radio program on BBC:

Do we need to “do something” about the effects of smartphones on teenage children? The backlash against the omnipresent devices has begun. Parents on both sides of the Atlantic are increasingly worried that smartphones pose a threat to the current generation of teenagers, who have grown up with a phone almost constantly in their hand. Smartphones make our teenagers anxious, tired narcissists who lack empathy and the ability to communicate properly in person. Or so the story goes.