Raising children in the digital age

Social media and all the internet offerings that seduce young minds at such an alarming rate are here to stay. So what are parents to do?
According to a 2018 study, 94% of teens as young as 13 years old own some type of mobile device, and their use has doubled in the last six years. CNN reported in 2015 that teens spend about nine hours a day on the internet, so it’s no wonder teachers report that kids are coming to school tired and sleep deprived. Might the rise in depression among teens be related to this as well?
Children between the ages of 8–12 years old are beginning to wrestle with peer pressure. Know that they are also experimenting with how they want to present themselves with others and in social media. Take comfort in knowing that your child is just testing the waters, and you can help them discover who they are and want to be. Find a way to get to know your child’s social media persona.
Prohibiting your child from setting up their own social media account is not the answer. Instead help them develop their digital self.
In my clinical practice, therapy with middle school and high school students involves decreasing the gap between their digital self and their real self. The more they feel secure in who they are, the less they need to create a false self, one that conforms more to the social norms of the “friend group”. Tell your child often all the positive things he does and how you see him.

A case study
I am working with a 12-year-old girl whom I’ve known for a couple of years. She used to be painfully shy but became less so around the time she discovered her passion for art. About a year ago she went on instagram.com and snapchat.com and began posting some of her illustrations.
She soon gained several followers and that made her feel good. For sure, social media has the potential to connect people, where people feel inspired and enlivened by these virtual interactions.
However, we still need to encourage face-to-face relationships. My client began to feel sad because her real, day-to-day relationships were not as gratifying as her virtual relationships. So she spent more and more time on social media.
The Child Mind Institute’s 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report on anxiety in childhood and adolescence shows that 8th graders who spend 10 hours or more a week on social media are 56% more likely to report being unhappy than those who spend less time.
At this age, they do not yet have the maturity to sift through the complexities of human relationships. When a virtual friend “loved” her work but snubbed her in the hallway at school, it was confusing to her.
My client felt better when her family supported her artistic endeavors and even entered her work at the county fair where she won three awards. Now those are real “likes” and “thumbs up”!

Confused reality
The perils that face middle schoolers and even younger children, such as bullying, have been heightened by social media, which tells them 24/7 how to look, act, think and feel. YouTube is the most popular platform these days, and it appears that there is very little control over what your children have access to. I have a 10-year old client who has been bugging his mom for a pair of Adidas Yeezys, which start at $300 on Amazon.com.
When I heard the child say this, I immediately felt like telling the child how ridiculous of a want it was. But instead of urging mom to strongly tell him to forget about it, I responded by being genuinely curious about how he heard about these shoes. As it turns out this 10-year old follows the Ace Family on YouTube. The Ace Family has over 15 million followers and they chronicle their lives daily on that platform, and in one of the episodes their 6-year old son got this very same pair of shoes for Christmas.
This revelation led to a gentle discussion between mom and child that I facilitated. Of course this child and mom did not know that the Ace family probably received these shoes, and many more items, for free in exchange for featuring it on their YouTube channel. In the end, the child appeared to appreciate the fact that mom works three jobs to make ends meet and to provide him.
What’s important to note here is that we must not be quick to judge our children when they bring up things they’re getting from social media or from their peers. Keeping the lines of communication open is the key, and so we must be mindful and restrain ourselves from quickly admonishing our children.

By a child psychotherapist  
 Vivette Catipon
Living City