Teen pressure, stress | Social Media the New Slambook; phenomenon of FOMO

I ran into a local middle school math teacher recently and we discussed teens and stress – and what’s causing it. We discussed the usual suspects: school, parents, expectations. I said all those were around when my older kids were in middle school, yet things seem worse these days. So I asked her, “What’s the big difference you see in your job – what’s different from when you taught my [older] kids?”  She replied, SOCIAL MEDIA.

So I asked North Bend  Mental Heath Counselor Cathy Jenner to share her insight on social media, teens and advice for parents on managing its impact on the stress level of today’s kids.  Read on….

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If you’re old enough to be raising a teenager right now, you probably grew up before the heyday of social media and you may remember something called a slam book.

For those of you who don’t remember or were lucky enough not to be exposed, slam books were a sort of scrapbook of notes kids would write and pass around to denigrate other students or teachers. The entire purpose was to ridicule people.

Usually, teachers would find these books within a few weeks and destroy them. The poor kids who were the subjects would be devastated, but soon the humiliation was forgotten.

Fast forward to today when the equivalent of the slam book is now on YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, AskFM or any of the other social media so easily accessed by our teens.

Now, the humiliation is not limited to the few kids who saw the book before the teacher snagged it. Instead, it is out there for the whole world to see, and it’s never taken down!

Anyone who looks at it can share it and comment on it, making the humiliation even worse. Many times the video or comment is posted under the guise of “friendly teasing” but everyone knows that teasing can really, really hurt.

Does that sound stressful? That’s what our kids live with every day.

How do you deal with that kind of threat of humiliation held over your head- and often carried out- when you’re only 14? The answer is that it’s very, very hard.

Many teens spend an inordinate amount of time worrying and trying to stay ahead of the social media-humiliation trend. They spend hours of time combing through social media to see what’s being said about them or responding to try to repair or prevent an attack.

Have you heard about “Fear of Missing Out”? A new psychological phenomenon that is so prevalent that it actually has an acronym: FOMO. Honestly! It was added to the Oxford English dictionary in 2013.

There’s nothing worse to a teenager than not being “in on” the latest fad, whether it’s clothing, music or lingo. The way to make sure that you’re never on the outside is to always be on social media checking out what is newly “cool.”  Many teenagers suffer from FOMO and are constantly checking their devices to make sure that they know everything that is going on so that they won’t feel left out.

This need for constant vigilance puts today’s teens under so much more social and psychological pressure than teens of years ago. When was the last time you set a timer to wake yourself up in the middle of the night to check your phone so you could make sure you were up on the latest changes in your social world? Never, you say? Well, your teenager might be doing just that! Today’s teens are notorious for checking their phones all night long, at a time when their growing brains need more sleep than they will ever need again in their lives.

So, what can a parent do? There’s no easy answer, I’m afraid. Social media is here to stay and getting more integrated in our lives by the minute. But here are some tips:

1. Be on the watch out for indications of stress such as being more irritable than usual, complaining about aches and pains or sickness, being more clingy, changes in sleep or appetite, withdrawing from friends or activities they used to like. If you see those signs, get in their business quickly, even though they won’t want you to.

2. Model appropriate use of devices. Put your phone down when your kids talk to you, during meals, and at nighttime.

3. Listen to your teen’s worries and don’t minimize them. Empathize. Then, help them figure out how to limit the impact of social media pressure in their lives. The key here is help them figure out, not tell them what to do. Help them learn the thinking skills necessary to develop boundaries, self-confidence and the ability to let go of worry and stress. Help them find ways to put things into perspective and to know how to still feel good about themselves even if they’ve been embarrassed on social media. So, talk with them and most importantly, listen to them and provide gentle guidance.

When I’m working with parents around issues like this, I suggest they use only “What and How” questions, never “Why” questions. “What could you do to let go of some of those feelings of anger over that comment?” instead of “Why do you let that bother you?”

How and When questions stimulate the teenager’s brain to analyze, whereas Why questions can cause a defensive reaction.

4. Set family guidelines around phone usage at bedtime and during homework. Have Screen Free times at your house when you play board games instead of watching TV or getting on the internet.

5. Get outside and play with your teenagers. Nothing is better for stress than movement.

Studies from the National Institute of Mental Health show a clear correlation between use of technology and “ill-being” in teenagers, including when controlling for poor nutrition and lack of exercise. In other words, even when kids are fed well and exercise regularly, too much technology still increases the chances of them being emotionally and physically less resilient than kids who don’t use much technology.

So, it is important for parents to put limits on screen time, as hard as it may be to do. Family time, nature, daydreaming, hanging out, being silly, playing, praying, loving a pet–all those “old-school” activities still are the best antidotes to stress.

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Comments

  1. God I’m glad this stuff didn’t exist when I was younger. It only becomes integral to your life if you let it, free yourself from the beast.

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