Teens, Social Media and Mental Health
As a woman who suffers from mental health disorders including generalized anxiety disorder and a type of depression, I’m acutely aware of all the ways society deems to destroy mental health in our world. Just ask my insurance company, oh wait, I forgot, they don’t care and that’s why I pay 100% out of pocket for my therapy bills.
As a mother on the brink of giving her soon-to-be 12-year-old her first cell phone, I’m painfully aware I’m embarking on uncharted waters. I got my first cell phone after I turned sixteen and started driving. It was for emergencies only and my parents scared me into thinking it basically had three minutes on it. Essentially I just carried it around in my purse. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college I signed up for my own phone, and learned exactly how many minutes I had, but I still didn’t get any social media outside of AOL instant messenger (AIM folks, hollaback!). I didn’t set up a Facebook page until I was 25 years old. I felt like the last dinosaur. It seemed like everyone had Facebook and I didn’t. I was between jobs and felt out of the loop. Now, fifteen years later, I worship at the Church of Zuck. (Mark Zuckerberg, Founder/Chief Executive Officer Facebook and now Instagram.) I can’t wait to capture pictures of every dang thing and share them on Instagram which I push to Facebook.
I see the ways social media is affecting our teens, especially girls. It affects their self-esteem. I see how they bully, goad, and otherwise shame and antagonize each other. It’s awful. These kids have not learned how to have a face-to-face conversation OR confrontation. You know, back in the old days, you talked trash, you better be able to back it up or RUN because you’re gonna get a fist in the face. Now, you get to be a keyboard cowboy and say things you would definitely never say to anyone’s face and sit there on your high horse while someone slowly dies inside.
It’s horrible how everyone thinks they’re going to be the next viral video sensation. We all have to get our phones out and share what we saw and post these pictures and videos hoping someone will share it with our name and we’ll be catapulted into greatness. I’m sorry, why again?
The Mayo Clinic has research on the social media harms to our teens. You can make your own decisons on what is right for your family. I’m not here to judge.
Adults Aren’t Immune
Adults aren’t immune to the pressures either. Recently, a friend posted that while she enjoys seeing everyone’s spring break pictures, it’s hard for her and she admitted she’s part of the problem too. They weren’t able to go anywhere on spring break because they were in the middle of a construction project and it’s actually been a really excruciating undertaking. She then proceeded to outline all she had been through in the last few months. It was startling how difficult her journey had been. The pictures she had been posting of the updates were gorgeous, but there was more going on behind the scenes than she originally let on.
Everyone wants to share the best parts of themselves. They want you to see them at their best. They don’t want you taking a picture of them sitting awkwardly and their belly jutted out or without makeup or in bad lighting. They aren’t going to post the day they broke down and cried for an hour because everything felt so hard and they just wanted to give up. Or the days it felt impossible to get out of bed. No one wants to see that! They don’t want you to know that! So you only see the pretty pictures and you begin to feel like you’re failing. They even make mention of this exact situation in the movie The Mitchells Vs. the Machine. (It’s a cute movie; a cartoon, my kids like it too.)
With all of these pressures, why make it harder? I know for a work-from-home mom with no kids at home all day and no visible co-workers, I work hard to only connect with my friends – people I know in real life – online. I’ve worked really hard to curate my feed. It doesn’t mean it’s a perfect process. Sometimes I still get sucked into things I wish I didn’t.
Final Thoughts on My Daughter and Her Phone
I’m not sure if I’ll ever give my daughter access to social media. It’s definitely not happening when she gets her phone next month. Baby steps. She’s getting a phone. That’s a huge lifestyle upgrade. Oh, and it’s only an iPhone SE. Verizon kept trying to upgrade her to the iPhone 14. I was like “NO! She does not get a nicer phone than me!” I have the iPhone 12. Her phone was free for adding a line and it’s better than no phone at all. If she wants to pay to upgrade at some point with her own money, we can discuss that at a later date.
This is the working list of rules I plan to give her before I put that phone in her hand, she loses her mind and then can’t hear anything else I’m saying to her:
- This is a privilege, not a right. If you lose your privileges, we reserve the right to take this phone away at any time. We own it.
- It’s not a toy. Failure to keep it safe at school, extracurricular activities, or friends’ houses will have consequences.
- Parents’ calls must always be picked up. Texts must always be answered.
- Multiple accidents where you forget to charge your phone or don’t call back will not be tolerated.
- Phone curfews are taken seriously. No phones behind closed doors. Charging will always happen downstairs overnight.
- No taking pictures of your body. Ever.
- Assume we are reading and seeing everything you are doing because we are. Parental safety software has been put in place. We reserve the right to spot-check as necessary.
- School rules will be strictly enforced.
- If your grades suffer, phone time will be limited, restricted, or removed.
- This is not a comprehensive list. We reserve the right to make adjustments to these rules at any time.
Wish me luck! I’m gonna need it. I’m sure there’s gonna be one heck of a learning curve. It’s the Wild West out there, people.
(So, my web designer says I needed to include a bio, though I find this task silly because, if you’re here, you know me.)
I’m a writer. It’s what I do. It’s a cathartic mechanism when I need release from my anxiety. I’ve had blogs in the past; I’ve taken them down, but I never stopped writing. I simply can’t. My notes app is forever long as it’s filled with pages and pages of different topics. Sometimes I just write a few sentences. Sometimes I write paragraphs.
Recently, I've been writing long essays. My friends and others I hold dear have coaxed me into sharing my work again.
So that's what I'm doing, you wicked, pushy people. LOL
I have no desire to see my writing be anything more than an opportunity to share what I love doing most. I have no interest in this blog reaching the masses.
I thought it would be fun to call it My Spicy Disaster because that's often how I feel. A complete mess of epic proportion. So join me, if you'd like, and let's pretend we're not sitting amongst the chaos crying, but laughing instead.
Or maybe we do cry sometimes, but then wipe our tears and remember one person’s disaster is another person’s … well, who the hell knows …