Inside The Digital Lives of Teens

Three facts parents should know about social media natives.

By: Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD

Inside The Digital Lives of TeensMost American teenagers have used some form of social media. And 75% maintain an online social profile, mostly through Facebook. A recent research study, Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives, provides fascinating insight into the digital habits of today’s 13-17 year-olds and how social media makes them feel about themselves.

When asked how social media affected their emotional well-being, teens overwhelmingly reported positive outcomes. They were far more likely to say they felt more confident, less depressed, more outgoing, more popular, less shy, and more sympathetic to others because of their online interactions. However, for about 5% of young people, the results were more negative.

The majority of teens (52%) say that social media has improved their relationships with friends while only 4% say that friendships have been harmed. Similarly, many more report that social media has helped relationships with family members (37%) rather than hurt them (2%).

From the 40-page study, three findings stood out that will be particularly pertinent to parents of social media natives..

1. Face-to-Face Communication Ranks High

Contrary to fears that digital communications will turn young people into robotic creatures unable to relate intelligently in the real world, most teenagers prefer face-to-face interactions. This finding supports my own research study on civically-engaged youth. While the teens in my study were highly active in the online world, they admitted their greatest learning and enjoyment came from face-to-face relationships.

The reason we observe so many young people texting is because 68% of them do so on a daily basis! Next to face-to-face interactions, texting is king. Why? Teens say It’s quick, easy, and gives them the opportunity to think before responding.

Because they value face-to-face relationships, many agreed that social media takes time away from being with people in-person, which they often perceive as a dilemma.

2. Teens Sometimes Want to Unplug

Like adults, teens often feel the need to unplug from their digital lives. One young person said, “Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and relax with no way possible to communicate with anyone.”

When asked if they felt “addicted” to their cell phones, 41% answered “Yes.” And they also pointed out that parents were addicted to gadgets too. In fact, many wished parents would spend less time on their devices and felt frustrated when people surfed the internet, checked email, or texted while they are hanging out together.

3. Social Networking Begins Early

Facebook is by far the most favorite social networking experience for teens. Three-quarters of 13 to 14-year-olds frequent social networking sites, and that goes up to 87% by the time they reach 15 to 17 years of age.

While most teens say they understand Facebook privacy policies, many do not. Before your teen posts a profile, this is one of the most important things to help them review and understand. Young people must recognize that their digital profiles will follow them for the rest of their lives.

Among teens with an online social profile, there are three reasons why they enjoy and benefit from social networking. 1) It helps them keep in closer touch with friends, particularly the ones they don’t see regularly, 2) They become more deeply acquainted with students at their own schools, and 3) They are able to connect with people with whom they share common interests.

Should Parents Worry?

Many parents worry that Facebook and other social networking sites will bring emotional harm to their children, either from predators, cyber-bullying, or inconsiderate friends. But the majority of teens don’t believe these sites affect them emotionally, one way or the other.

For young people who do report a change in psychological health, only a small percentage reported a negative change. In fact, emotional well-being was not discernibly different if a teen was a heavy or light social networker.

One troublesome result of this study is how often teens encounter online hate speech. This includes language that is sexist, homophobic, racist, or derogatory in other ways. Forty percent of teens report this to be a common element of online dialogue. It’s a good idea for parents to prepare teens for this and teach them how to respond. Check out the article, Teaching Civility in an F-Word Society, for some guidance.

This study, while limited in scope, can give parents some peace of mind. While cyber-bullying is real and some young people are genuinely harmed by their online relationships, these situations are the exception, not the rule. We should set rules and give children guidelines for online behavior just as we do for behavior in the real world.

The bottom line: Take a deep breath and be grateful for the fact that most teens using social media and digital devices report an overall sense of happiness and confidence. And despite the fact that their lives are intertwined with technology for evermore, they mostly appreciate the face-to-face time they spend with their friends and family. Let’s hope that never changes!


Does Your Teen Have a Severe Anger Disorder?

Does your teen have a severe anger disorder?Teenagers are often characterized as over-emotional, prone to outbursts that confuse their parents and leave teachers reeling.

But a study published in the July issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry says 1 in 12 adolescents may in fact be suffering from a real and severe anger problem known as intermittent explosive disorder (IED).

Study author Katie McLaughlin, a clinical psychologist and psychiatric epidemiologist, says IED is one of the most widespread mental health disorders – and one of the least studied.

“There’s a contrast between how common the disorder is and how much we know about it,” she said.

IED is characterized by recurrent episodes of aggression that involve violence, a threat of violence and/or destruction of property, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It often begins around the age of 12, but scientists don’t know whether it continues into adulthood. (A similar study which focused on adults found 7.2% met the criteria for IED).

“Intermittent explosive disorder is as real or unreal as many psychiatric disorders,” wrote CNN’s mental health expert Dr. Charles Raison in an e-mail. “There are people who get really pissed off really quick and then regret it, just as there are people who get unreasonably sad and depressed. In both cases, but especially with [IED], it’s really just a description of how people behave.”

In this large study, researchers authors interviewed 6,483 adolescents and surveyed their parents. They excluded anyone who had another mental health disorder, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) or conduct disorder (CD).

Of the teenage participants, 7.8% reported at least three IED anger attacks during their life. More than 5% had at least three attacks in the same year.

McLaughlin said one of the most interesting things her team found was that very few of the adolescents who met the criteria for IED had received treatment for anger or aggressive behavior. More research needs to be done to determine if treatments that have been developed for ODD or CD anger issues would apply to IED as well.

Additional research should also look into the risk factors for IED, she said. “We know not that much about course of the disorder… Which kids grow out of it and which kids don’t?”


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12 Tips to Navigate Summertime When Your Child Has ADHD


12 Tips to Navigate Summertime When Your Child Has ADHDParenting a child with ADHD can be especially tough during the summer. “Kids with ADHD blossom when they have a structured schedule, and summertime is notorious for having a lack of scheduling,” according to Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of Making the Grade with ADD: A Student’s Guide to Succeeding in College with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Psychotherapist and ADHD expert Terry Matlen, ACSW, agreed. Because most parents can’t mimic the tight structure of school, kids often get bored — and may get into trouble, she said. That’s because when kids with ADHD get bored, they seek out stimuli, which can be anything from picking fights with their families to playing with fire, she said.

Some parents discontinue their child’s medication during the summer, which poses another challenge, said Matlen, also author of Survival Tips for Women with ADHD. “That can create a situation where the child has a hard time with self-control, mood regulation [and] social behaviors.”

But while the summer can be challenging, you can absolutely overcome these obstacles and enjoy a fun break. Below, Sarkis and Matlen offer their excellent suggestions.

1. Create Structure

Again, structure keeps your child focused. You can create structure by engaging your child in activities at the same time each day or meeting on the same day each week.

Because ADHD runs in families, one of you may have ADHD as well, making it harder to establish structure. Enlist the help of your non-ADHD spouse to assist with planning out the day.

2. Incorporate Physical Activities

Physical activities are especially helpful for kids who are impulsive and hyperactive. It helps them direct their energies in acceptable, healthy ways. If your child is clumsy, try non-competitive activities such as swimming, running and biking. (Some kids with ADHD have fine and gross motor skills that may not be on par with others their age.)

3. Start a Rotating Playgroup

Sarkis suggested that parents set up a weekly playgroup with other parents around their neighborhood. You can meet once a week at a different home for a few hours. This is an inexpensive way of providing structure to a child, and it also giving parents time off in the process.

4. Consider Camps

According to Matlen, young kids do great in day camps that offer outdoor, structured activities, while overnight camps with physical outlets are ideal for older kids. If your child has a specific interest, such as art, horses or computers, specialized camps are another excellent option, she said.

Both Sarkis and Matlen also suggested camps for kids with ADHD. To find a camp, contact your local CHADD group or post on an ADHD forum, Sarkis said. “Look in your local paper, and ask your pediatrician, teacher, or school counselor,” she added.

(Also, this article has several helpful suggestions on finding a good camp.)

5. Try Local Facilities

If camp isn’t feasible, try a local swim club or the Y, Matlen said. These facilities offer an array of fun activities at an affordable cost.

6. Get Creative

Parents can also set up a badminton set in the backyard, purchase a trampoline [or] set up an obstacle course with tunnels and objects to hop over.

7. Engage Them in Nature

For instance, show your kids how to garden. Kids can get dirty while learning about nature. Also, setting up bird feeders and tending to the food gives kids the opportunity to learn how to care for living creatures.

8. Visit the Library

Kids with the inattentive type of ADHD often prefer quiet and calm activities. During the summer, many libraries offer either free or low-cost programs for kids.

9. Check out the Arts

Kids who prefer quieter activities also might enjoy attending concerts, plays and art classes.

10. Encourage Older Kids to Work

If your kids are older, talk to them about the many ways they can earn money, such as dog walking, pet sitting or even having a lemonade stand. This improves math skills and promotes a healthy independence and solid self-esteem.

11. Let Your Child Have a Say

Ask your child what they’d like to do this summer, including the new skills they’d like to learn, such as playing the guitar, camping or cooking. Once he sees that he has input and that his opinion is valued, the parent has a much better chance at getting him to try new things.

If your child already has a certain skill, ask if they’d be willing to teach that skill to a younger child. According to Matlen, this can “do wonders for his self-esteem, which for many kids, can get pretty battered during the school year.”

12. Consult your Doctor about Medication

Some parents take their kids off medication during the summer since there’s no schoolwork. However, it’s important to thoroughly discuss this decision with your child’s doctor, Matlen said. She’s seen kids significantly struggle without their medication. For instance, because of their hyperactivity and impulsivity, they may lose friends, she said. And their behaviors might cause tremendous stress on the family.

In addition to creating structure and engaging your child in a variety of enjoyable activities, don’t forget to find some alone time for yourself, Sarkis added.


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