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The average teen spends 9 hours a day using media.

Social Media increases the risk and development of anxiety symptoms and anxiety disorder.

Every time you get a “like” on social media, dopamine is released in the brain. 

We’ve known for a long time that social media is a problem. Kids are consumed by it, bullying occurs on it and no matter what we try to do, we can’t keep our kids off of it.

Or ourselves.

Social media is addictive and it wasn’t until recently that we’ve figured out just why. A recent study at UCLA revealed that the reward centers in the teenage brain light up when they receive a “like” on social media. Essentially, dopamine is released, the same chemical released by winning money or eating chocolate. So, it isn’t as simple as saying, “put your phone away.” It’s biology that we’re fighting, not just angsty teenagers.

But there is something that we can’t measure that is effecting our kids. It’s more subtle but has long- standing effects. It’s the emotional roadblocks that social media is causing that will create the most lasting issues. The most important are outlined below:

1. The Inability to Deal with Difficult Situations 

Social media is a great place to hide. Behind a screen is safe. Words are said and things are promised that would never happen face-to-face. “I love you’s” and “I hate you’s” are dished out on a whim with no real consequence for what has been said.

When I was in 7th grade, I dated a boy for about a week. A week in, I realized I didn’t really like him but it was too late – he already liked me. I spent days trying to figure out how to break up with him and the day I finally found enough courage to do it, I was called to the office to receive a rose he had sent to school. “I’m so happy to be yours,” were the words inside. I was devastated. It took me another week to gather up enough courage to tell him. I had a lump in my throat, my palms were sweaty and I’ll never forget the look of sadness on his face when I finally said, “I want to break up.” I’d crushed him and in doing so, had crushed myself.

Two lessons I learned that day: 1. Don’t be frivolous with other people’s emotions and 2. Disappointing people is tough. Had I not learned that lesson, I would not have been able to tell my boss I’d taken a different position or my college basketball coach I wanted to transfer. Managing difficult situations is like a muscle. You have to use it for it to perform.

2. How to Connect

“Connection” on social media is really false connection. So much of connecting to another human is reading body language, feeling a sense of nervousness or excitement in relating to another person. Those subtle cues, the body language, eye contact and cadence of conversation is what develops lasting connection. Typing in a few savvy words on a phone while you’re watching Netflix inhibits these very important cues.

One of the reasons teens are so quick to jump in and out of relationships is because no real connection has ever been formed. Words have been exchanged via the phone but no real feelings have occurred. This is hard to explain to a kid who has only ever experienced social media as a means of conversation. I explain this to kids in my office by using the food analogy. You can read about food on a menu but you will only experience food if you go to the restaurant, sit down, order the food and actually taste it. Then you will know its texture, the flavors and how you feel after eating it.

It’s the difference between reading a pamphlet about a college and actually stepping on campus. You’ll never know what something feels like until you’re there.

3. The Confusion of Friendship

The term “Facebook friends” has pretty much destroyed the public opinion of friendship. True friendship requires listening, being there for someone and having a reciprocal relationship – I’m there for you, you’re there for me. But teens, in the most social part of their lives, are confused by what friendship actually is. Being a “friend” on social media is clearly not being a friend in real life. It gives a false sense of connection with others that is too often taken into adulthood. Friends come and go – they don’t last so why bother with being there for someone? They won’t be there for me. They’ll just go away.

This is not what true friends do. True friends don’t leave you when you date someone they don’t like or when you’re being distant because you’re going through a hard time. They stick and only by experiencing a friend who sticks, will kids be able to stick themselves.

A final note: Talking to kids about social media is tough. Take it in stride and give your kids enough of a leash to experience the negative effects of social media on their own. The best lessons are not what has been taught but what has been experienced.

Have a fabulous week everyone!

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