A restaurant manager I met in the field last spring told me that when his 17-year-old had entered middle school, the principal stood before the parents, held up the mobile phone and declared, “This device is what separates you from your child’s childhood.” This manager further explained that his teenager today is suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts, and it was clearly a painful real experience for him. The ache of his father heart spoke volumes about the depth and breadth of his concern and love. He said the counseling did not seem to help and he was truly despondent. I then offered a few words of encouragement: that we and our children are wired to overcome the experiences that disturb our peace; thus recognizing that lies that can become a real experience murdering the truth if we allow it in our own minds. He lightened up. I encouraged him to be the face of hope for his child (in counseling) and declare the truth that nothing can separate them from the love of God, who grants every human being intelligent life and free will. So we can choose to agree with those thoughts causing depression and hopelessness, or not. This is the power that belongs to every individual. This means that we can declare our own truth, in all circumstances. Upon leaving the restaurant, he told me he was really happy to have had this conversation. He was smiling.
This conversation about the agony of witnessing a suffering child is one that I have with parents often.
People in all walks of life are seeking truth, and when we hear it, welcome it, and then choose to commit to it, the truth will not be denied. It will set you free from the fear-based thoughts that torment the soul. I have learned that the truth is simple and brings about peace; while lies tend to be complex and disturb the peace. In this regard, teenage years are defined by transition and change as young folks are exploring their own sense of worth and identity in the world. And they are dealing with many thought streams, some of them rooted in truth, many of them not so much. What is different for the modern teen is the constant pressure to be “always on”, and the anxiety of being “liked” or ignored, and the cyberbully effect when a teen becomes the target of teasing or harassment. This is what we might call peer pressure on steroids and, FOMO or “fear of missing out,” which according to a study by the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, points to a common thread of teenagehood experience. This stress from the pressure to be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week results in sleep deprivation, lower self esteem, anxiety and depression.
In a very real sense, the emotional backpacks teenagers carry today are a lot heavier than that of generations past. So it is no surprise that the recommendation of this study is to have a “digital sunset” rule in the home, when devices are turned off. (This is a good rule of thumb that is a part of the house rules criteria in the Fresh Start training manual.)
Responding to the teenage cyber stress
Myrna Cruz Brady, BSW is a Sacramento-based anger and stress management counselor and trainer at AiMEd. She wants parents to know that the most important thing they can do is to not assume that they know what is stressing out their teenager. “Sometimes the things that would stress mom or dad, do not bother the teen,” she said. “So if you start asking questions about stresses that are on your heart you may wind up making the situation worse. Rather, ask your teen to tell you what is happening. As them to give you a narrative of their life journey, so you can learn about the things that are disturbing from their point of view, not yours.”
Brady offers the following steps to address the stress of the modern teenager.
Develop stress alerts, such as circumstances, people or events that tend to trigger a physical or emotional response. (Stomach ache, head ache, anger, anxiety, sadness, etc.) For example, your teen may be experiencing stressors in a certain class during the day, or at certain family events, or dealing with academic skills that are not their strengths, etc.
Evaluate the stressors
When your teen has come up with a list of the things that seem to be associated with the anxiety and unease they are feeling, then it is time to evaluate these stressors. Are they a part of normal life? Does it involve peers? Is it an academic matter?
Also get your teen to evaluate their use of texting and social media. What is happening on line? Is it a source of joy or despair? Are there boundaries? Sometimes the ability to handle the amount of stress that is a part of life can be hindered by over-use of social media. Make sure that your child has a good sense of giving himself or herself a buffer so they are not “always on.”
Identify options for change
Are there changes in lifestyle or academic career that can be made to ease stress and increase productivity and health? “The parent has to take responsibility and guide the teen, and also be mindful of criticizing,” Brady said. “Parents cannot control everything, but they can engage the kids so they can learn that they have some power in choosing how to respond to stress. Often it is the parent who is stressed out because their child is not performing well in with grades. Simply encourage your child to be wise and do their best.”
Commit to changes
Sometimes changes require managing expectations (adjustments may be necessary), but mostly it is about open communication. There may be a need to modify schedules, classes or teachers. Goals may need to be clarified or revised. Perhaps there needs to be a better plan for the day, so that time is managed more effectively. Perhaps it is a commitment for everyone to put down the device and just be together giving undivided attention when interacting over normal daily activities. Whatever changes are identified, everyone involved must commit to them. It may not be a simply matter of the teen making the change. The parent may need to help with adjustments to schedules and academic circumstances – especially if grades are involved.
And keep in mind that stress is not a bad thing, unless it becomes the state of being. “Good stress can motivate us, but stressing out is a constant pressure that takes toll on health and may encourage behaviors that are risky,” Brady said.
ABOUT: Banana Moments Foundation is a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. The BMF mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all BMF proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your Donations are greatly appreciated.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
- Cyber safety for kids and families on TheFish103.9FM (videos)
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- Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner
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- Email: Jullien@surewest.net
Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.