Anxious Teen? Screen time, isolation and anxiety are a real danger – for most of us

Students Texting on Their Cell Phones

I practically live on my iPhone.

It’s a love / hate affair that I justify and rationalize using words like “work” and “email” and “messages” from clients and family and friends.

Oh, trust me, I do my share of work from my iPhone, but far more time is spent managing multiple social media pages, scrolling mindlessly through the life-sucking vortex that is Facebook (like I said, love/hate affair) and determining what new content I could post that will teach, inspire, encourage others and showcase all the cool and wonderful things that are happening in my life.

I agonize over my words and hashtags, and reach and the potential of each post. I spend hours responding to emojis and one word comments and feel deflated and sickened by the comments feed on posts that roll through my timeline.

I don’t spend much time reading them, and I don’t pour gasoline on the fire – but they’re there – and I see them – and sometimes those online arguements make me question our capacity as humans to interact and get along.

I quietly creep others, I admire or envy. I pay attention to drama and breakups and challenges and hardships. My senses have been assaulted by images of brutal fights and abused animals and I’ve cried over videos of soldiers coming home and “don’t text and drive” commericals.

I watch funny cat videos occassionally, and Ellen clips once in a while, but the poisonous tends to over-rule the rest. Political unrule, savage personal choice debates and hard conversations that have no place happening over a keyboard dominate my on-line world right now, and I can’t help feel overwhelming, and a bit hopeless sometimes.

I’m FOURTY-SIX.

I’m self-reliant, mature, well-adjusted. I’ve battled my demons. I know who I am. I have a strong circle of friends and a supportive spouse and a job I am good at. I’m confident in who I am and in my body. I accept my quirks and limitations and recognize I can be different, and still be utterly loveable.

Yet too much social media can leave me feeling empty, vacant and, once-in-a-blue moon, misunderstood.

How would I manage the gigantic complicated on-line world around me if I was a 14 year old?

My fourteen year old daughter has been struggling. She feels lonely and awkward. She has a very small friendship circle and worries about being abandoned and ‘losing people’. She doesn’t “like herself”, her weight and her eyebrows. She feels unseen and unworthy and unloveable.

All normal, you say? Yeah, age appropriate, totally.

Now, add practically unlimited social media time to mindlessly scroll, read, examine, compare and measure herself against a world that appears to be well beyond her reach and reality.

Before you criticize my parenting (unlimited screentime), it’s actually not unlimited. We have timers set on both our daughter’s devices. Depending on the day of the week, there is no access to wi-fi, and it’s off every night before 10. They tell me, “none of my other friends have limits!” (huge sigh, and groan)

It’s devastating to watch.

My girl is self-conscious. And anxious. I can see her anxiety rise while she scrolls Instagram and checks her stories on Snapchat. She has told me before: “When I feel anxious, I’m wondering what I might see about me? What is someone saying about me?”

When she is not allowed to use the wi-fi to “connect” – I see her anxiety rise. Afterall, that’s where everyone is.

I try to explain: the trouble with the photos and stories you’re seeing is that they aren’t real life. They are the parts of people’s lives that they want you to see. No one ever looks alone or lonely because they want to show their life is amazing. They are only ever posting 1 tiny second of a moment as a photo. (And maybe it’s the best picture out of 31 others taken in order to share.)

It doesn’t console her. She’s convinced she is the only girl unlovable enough to not be in sunny, happy party photos with a group of cool kids.

It’s lonely. And isolating. And creates desperation. And increases anxiety. And incites and aggravates depression.

We have no idea what social media use means for developing brains and selves. It is a global experiment currently in progress.

We don’t yet have significant proven studies on the effects of screens and sleep and brain waves. We don’t know how children develop without conversations and connections and the practice of face-to-face relationships and dialogues; how they manage confrontation and disagreements without hiding behind emojis and text.

We have no clue how dangerous social media use is for young people. Yeah, yeah, not all young people. Yet, I’d guarantee more teens are struggling with the emotional fall out of extended social media use than are highly adapted and capable of managing it successfully.

What’s worse is having parents who are so busy working and scrolling and liking and commenting and playing games and texting that we are missing the signals.

I don’t want to miss the signals.

She needs me, now more than ever.

In a world that feels distant and unattainable even though it is right in front of our eyes, making heart and eye connections and leading our kids is absolutely critical.

Time to put my phone down.

 

*Stay tuned for follow up articles with tips and tools for social media use and anxiety management for teens.

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