I received a phone call recently from a sobbing mother – Amber. She had called in desperation after a night from hell that involved her teenage daughter, Chloe, and her social media addiction.
The issue had been brewing for a while. The teenager was never off the phone: always messaging, texting, checking, re-checking. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Ask.fm, tumblr. Addiction.
Things completely blew up when Amber picked up Chloe’s phone, left unlocked on the kitchen bench. Amber discovered explicit questions being asked on Chloe’s Ask.fm profile. She showed her husband and they confronted Chloe.
The night had culminated with her husband smashing the 14-year-old’s phone. Chloe had been screaming at her dad in a rage, with tears streaming down her face. Amber was at a total loss.
There are two issues here:
First, how in the world do we determine what is an acceptable amount of social media use? And second, how do we deal with the challenge of all the filth, bullying and junk our kids are dealing with on sites like Ask.fm, tumblr, Twitter, and so on?
Let’s deal with the question of acceptable social media use first.
We’ve lost the war against media
Depending on which report you read, Australian children (aged 8-18) are spending upwards of around five hours every day consuming media. And as they get older, the proportion of that time is increasingly devoted to social media use. Given that guidelines suggest no more than one to two hours per day of screen time for our kids (from age 5 up), we are WAY beyond what is considered acceptable use. I believe that, on a global scale we’ve lost the war on screens.
Why does it matter?
Screen time is associated with a range of negative outcomes for children including (but not limited to) poorer speech and language skills in young children, poorer social skills in older children, poorer academic outcomes, lack of sleep, poorer health, and increased risk of depression and anxiety. Not a nice list.
How do we deal with it?
I reject the idea that we are powerless. At a global level, we may have lost the war. But at the family level, I still believe this is a battle we must fight.
In the past year netizens have been pleading and advocating for social media outlets to take more responsibility for the content they allow, and for abuse to be reported. While this is a reasonable position, it ignores the real issue.
It is not the responsibility of Facebook, Ask.fm, tumblr or any other platform to raise your children, to monitor their behaviour, and to hold them accountable should they do or say something inappropriate.
The responsibility is ours – as parents.
Far too many parents tell me they don’t have any idea what social media platforms their children are using, who they’re online with or what they’re doing on ‘those stupid sites’. While this is common, it’s also a failure on the part of those parents to appropriately parent their kids.
We would be reluctant to let our kids walk out the front door unless we knew where they were going, who they would be with, and what they were planning on doing. And yet in spite of the far greater dangers of the online environment (bullying, pornography, other predatory behaviour), too many of us have no idea what’s going on – and we trust that the websites our kids visit are being watched and monitored by someone else.
The solutions are not rocket science. They involve simple, positive parenting practices.
- We must be involved in our children’s online world.
- We must be having ongoing, regular conversations about what’s going on in their online world. We can respect privacy but still maintain communication about the issues. (Hint – it pays to have conversations when we’re not too emotional about things.)
- We must establish rules about media and phone use and monitor adherence to those rules, with clear consequences if the rules are not kept.
- We must be available for our children to come to us if things go badly in their media spaces.
Our social media challenges aren’t going away. 67 percent of Australian tweens (eight to 12 years) are now on social media, and increasing numbers of them are reporting bullying and other problem behaviours. Over 50 percent of teens say they’ve witnessed or experienced online bullying. I suspect the numbers will only go up over time.
The issue is emotive. Talking about it with our children can often lead to significant conflict. But it doesn’t have to.
Getting mad at Facebook and Ask.fm, and smashing kids’ phones won’t make our children any safer online. Safe social media use is based on communication, boundaries and being involved with our kids.
Is internet addiction a real problem? Or is it a label we give to a behaviour we find confusing and problematic for our relationships with young people? Psychologist Liesje Donkin provides advice on the concept of ‘internet addiction’ and how to support young people whose internet use is problematic.
Working with young people I constantly hear parents complaining about the amount of time that their young people spend online. Comments like “they can’t live without facebook”, “I can’t get them off the computer”, and “they’re addicted to being online” are common.
But is it addiction?
When considering if someone is addicted or dependent on something, we look at whether their use of the thing interferes with their ability to work, their relationships, and how they cope when they can’t access that thing. Does not being able to access it make them feel agitated? Do they spend a lot of time and energy thinking about it? Are they spending more time online than intended? And is the use of the internet continuing despite causing more problems than benefit?
Whilst these are common features of all addictions, there is no formal recognition of online addiction yet. Some research has indicated that people who heavily use the internet and develop addiction-like behaviour are more likely to develop depression, and experience negative effects on their work, social and psychological functioning. Others argue that high levels of internet use may be symptomatic of underlying mental health conditions with the internet being the medium people use to access the thing that they are truly addicted to (eg. Gambling, shopping, or sex).
What is agreed is that there is increasingly problematic internet use. Across the world the rates of problematic use is rising – 1.0-18.3% of adolescences in Western countries and 13.7%-18.4% in Asian countries. In South Korea there has been a spate of deaths relating to unwillingness to stop playing an online game, which has resulted in Internet Addiction being considered a significant mental health issue. In China this has led the government to pass laws restricting time spent on online games.
Despite this, there is not clear evidence that internet addiction does exist. What is known is that young people are at increased risk of developing problematic behaviours related to internet use as young people spend more time online due to the use of the internet as a source of support and a way to develop their identity. However, this doesn’t mean that spending time online is going to lead to developing dysfunction; in many ways it can be beneficial, with research showing that time online can build social networks and support, and does not generally take the place of offline activities. Therefore, young people’s online behaviour may positively influence life offline – which is the opposite to an addiction.
Strategies for managing problematic internet use
If you are worried about a young person’s internet use, there are several practical strategies you can recommend to young people and parents:
- Talk to the young person about the issues they see about their use. Acknowledge the benefits of time on line, and discuss ways to address the negatives
- Work with the young person to limit internet access to a reasonable level
- Remove internet devices from bedrooms and into public spaces
- Explore ways to build offline social connections – hobby groups, sport, interest based activities
- Find out what the young person is getting from online and find another way for them to get this
I’ve taken you on this leap into my past because it seems as though the same short-sighted, self-righteous state of mind still applies to teens today. His or her publication of meaningless Status Updates and uninformative Tweets are enough to drive any educated person up the wall. Taking it a step further, teen’s have begun a migration to Instagram, where they seem to think applying one of twelve preset filters to pictures of absolutely nothing makes them the next Ansel Adams. Should parents care? Not particularly if they know their child is keeping things appropriate and not destroying their chances to get into college in a few years. (Insider tip for parents: you don’t have to know EVERYTHING your teen is doing online, but social monitoring or using parental intelligence is always a good safety net.) But for some teens, this “constantly-connected” lifestyle is being taken to extremes, and I’m here to tell you about 6 key indicators that could point to your teen’s phone or social media addiction.
1. Your Child Has To Respond To Everything… Immediately.
If unanswered texts or Tweets get your teen spinning into a tizzy, there’s a good chance that their smartphone is adding stress to their life rather than making it easier. It might be that his phone and his social media comes before everything else and is constantly interrupting his day — whether it’s writing a history paper or spending some quality time with the family. When your teen starts getting anxious about their inbox, Facebook wall, or Twitter feed, make him take a moment to step back, and remind him that it’s probably not as urgent as it seems. Often times, requiring your teen to sleep with his phone away from his bed or keeping it in his backpack instead of a pocket during class can gradually help to lessen his urge to be constantly checking for updates.
2. You Catch Your Teen Having Phantom Cellphone Syndrome
At times, you see your teen check his phone as if they have a new message, only to scrunch his face with a puzzled look as no new messages have appeared on their phone even though “they swear they felt it vibrate” Phantom cellphone vibration syndrome is a real sign of technology addiction — and it’s more common than you might think. A study conducted at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne found that 89 percentof undergraduates had experienced feeling nonexistent cellphone vibrations.
3. They Check In On Foursquare – Everywhere They Go
Is your child the mayor of your house, the nearest convenience store, the local pizza shop, the bowling alley and his high school? Yikes, they might need some time away from Foursquare. As an aside, make sure your child doesn’t have a public profile, or his check ins could be seen by everyone, including the people you definitely DON’T want seeing where your child is every minute of the day.
4. You’ve Witnessed A Bad Case Of FOMO
Is your child’s excuse for having his phone on them at all times always that he “Doesn’t want to miss out on anything”? Well, there’s an acronym for that: FOMO. It’s become common for teens who use social media and smartphones to experience a “fear of missing out”. When they’re unable to get to their phones or when they’re getting updates about all the exciting things that everyone in their social network is doing and feeling depressed about it, it’s time for a technology timeout.
5. Your Teen Has A Name For His Or Her Phone.
If that mobile device has a name like a pet, your teen may want to keep it secret. The latest reports explain: 29 percent of cell owners describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Catch your teen referring to their phone by persona or name? Maybe it’s time for a surgical-separation.
6. Poor Performance In School
If your teen is having an increasingly difficult time focusing in his classes and eagerly awaiting the ringing of the bell so that they can check his phone and return that unanswered text, an Internet or smartphone addiction could be partially to blame for low grades. The uKnowKids dashboard offers an industry unique feature allowing parents to see when their teen is most active on their social media and smartphones. Seeing a direct correlation between digital activities and dropping grades has never been easier for parents.
Parenting has become increasingly more complicated with cell phones and computers. Read about how you can keep up with it all in our eBook! Download “Digital Parenting: The Essential Guide to Raising Connected Kids” now