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Parents of the social media generation are not doing well

2021-12-08T16:05:26.734Z

The problems of parents of the generation that grew up with social networks include depression and suicide of their children. 



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(CNN Business) -

Last September, just a few weeks after the school year, Sabine Polak received a call from the guidance counselor.

His 14-year-old daughter was battling depression and had contemplated suicide ... all on social media.

"I was completely blown away," said Polak, 45, who lives in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

"I had no idea she was feeling even remotely depressed. When I asked her about it, she kept saying she wanted to get away from it all ... but I didn't know what that meant."

After being taken to a crisis center, where anyone who signed up was banned from using the phone, Polak learned from her daughter that social media pressures were driving her to increase her anxiety.

The main source of stress: waiting for your friends to open and reply to messages and photos on Snapchat.

"It got really addictive [for her], the feeling that you always have to be connected and you always have to respond to someone to be seen or to exist," he said. "She would look at her phone and go from calm to storming out of the car; the rest of the night, she would just curl up in her bed."

Polak activated some of the phone's parental controls, but they were easy for her daughter to bypass.

He took the phone from her, but was concerned that the move would only make his daughter think about taking her own life again.

He handed the phone back to her only to find his daughter calming down on another app: TikTok.

So much, in fact, that she "literally thinks she can't fall asleep without it."

As Polak put it, her daughter "feels lost, like, 'I have no idea what to do with myself if I'm not on social media.'

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Sabine Polak is one of many parents concerned about navigating the impacts of social media on their children's mental health.

The problems of parents of the social media generation

Polak is one of the mothers of the generation of fathers who did not spend their childhood with social media and media apps and are now struggling to understand and navigate the potential damage that social media can have on their children's mental health as that grow. In interviews over the past month, nearly a dozen parents spoke to CNN Business about how to deal with teens who experience harms online like bullying, body image issues, and pressure to always like them. Most parents said these problems began or were exacerbated by the pandemic, a time when their children were isolated from their friends, social media became a lifesaver, and the amount of screen time increased.

The issue of the impact of social media on teens gained renewed attention this fall after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked hundreds of internal documents, some of which showed the company was aware of Instagram's potential to negatively impact mental health. and body image, especially among adolescent girls. But Haugen also touched on the impact on parents. During his testimony before Congress in October, Haugen cited a Facebook investigation that revealed that children believe they are struggling with issues like body image and bullying just because their parents can't guide them.

"It saddens me more when I look on Twitter and people blame parents for these problems with Facebook. They say: 'Just take the phone from your children.' But the reality is that it is much more complicated than that," he said in his testimony .

"Very rarely do you have one of these generational shifts where the generation you lead, like the parents who lead their children, have such a different set of experiences that they don't have the context to safely support their children." he added.

"We need to support parents. If Facebook doesn't protect children, at least we need to help parents support children."

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The role of social media companies in adolescent health

Facebook, which changed its name to Meta in October, repeatedly tried to discredit Haugen and said that his testimony and reports on the documents mischaracterize his actions and efforts. But the clamor of Haugen's revelations pressured Facebook to rethink launching an Instagram app for kids under 13 (kids under 13 can't create accounts on any Meta platform). It also helped drive a series of hearings on how tech products impact kids, with executives from Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat's parent company Snap. This week, the boss of Meta-owned Instagram will appear before Congress as lawmakers question the app's impact on young users.

In their testimonials, TikTok and Snap executives showed humility and recognized the need to do more to protect their platforms. Jennifer Stout, Snap's vice president of global public policy, said the company is developing new tools for parents to better monitor how their children use the app. Instagram previously said that it is "increasingly focused on addressing negative social comparison and negative body image."

Ahead of this week's Congress appearance, Instagram introduced a Take a Break feature that encourages users to spend time off the platform. The company also said it plans to take a "stricter approach" to content that it recommends to teens and actively push them toward different topics if they have been insisting on any type of content for too long. It also plans to introduce its first tools to parents, including an educational center and parental monitoring tools that allow them to see how much time their children spend on Instagram and set time limits, starting next year.

"You can offer tools to parents and you can give them information about their adolescent's activity, but that's not that helpful if they really don't know how to have a conversation with their teen about it, or how to start a dialogue that can help them get the most out of it. their time online, "Vaishnavi J, Instagram's head of security and wellness, told CNN Business this week.

Meanwhile, members of Congress displayed unusual bipartisanship by coming together to criticize tech companies on the issue.

Some lawmakers are now pushing for legislation aimed at increasing children's privacy online and reducing the apparent addictiveness of various platforms, although it is unclear when or if such legislation will be passed.

For some parents, these changes don't happen quickly enough.

Not knowing what else to do, parents feel they have to go it alone, whether it's to push for change in their school districts or seek the advice of their peers on some of the same social media that they feel have caused their families pain.

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A concern that is getting worse

Even before Haugen's revelations, there were concerns in some households that the risks social media platforms posed to their children were only increasing.

Katherine Lake said social media became "everything" for her 13-year-old son during the pandemic to spend time at home and connect with friends.

She said her teenager fell into a den of pages on mental health and, later, posts on self-harm, something her son "didn't even know before from Instagram."

The teenager was hospitalized last spring after attempting suicide.

"The pandemic certainly accelerated some of the threats and dangers that we have been grappling with for years," said Marc Berkman, executive director of the Organization for Social Media Safety, an agency founded three years ago to provide preventive safety advice and workshops.

for parents.

Some data also supports that mental health problems among youth on social media are on the rise. Bark, a payment monitoring service that scans social media apps, personal messages and emails for terms and phrases that may indicate concerns, said it saw a 143% increase in alerts sent about self-harm and ideas. suicides during the first three months of 2021 compared to the previous year. (Parents receive alerts when Bark detects potential problems, along with expert recommendations from child psychologists on how to address them.)

"Our children's lives are buried deep in their phones and problems live within their digital signal in places where parents don't go," said Titania Jordan, Bark's chief marketing officer.

"If you don't spend time in the places where your children are online, how can you educate them and then how can you guide them?"

Gabriella Bermudez, now 19, recalls how Instagram affected her mental health in high school.

Gabriella Bermudez, a 19-year-old Fordham University student, told CNN Business that she started struggling with body image issues in high school after a boy she had a crush on started liking photos of a 30-year-old model on Instagram.

"I was 12 years old, and I would look at her and think, 'Why don't I look like that?'" Bermúdez said.

"I was covered in pimples. My hair was horrible ... I never thought she was a grown woman. I posted pictures of myself to look so much older than I was."

But that started attracting direct messages from older men on Instagram.

She kept it from her parents, she said, because she thought "they will never understand what it's like to be young [right now]."

"They always had social pressure to look a certain way or behave in a certain way, but that was in a magazine or on television. They could have turned it off. For us, we are connected to our phones all the time. When we are waiting at the bus stop bus or walking to class, we always remember these ideals. "

Looking for answers on social media

When Julia Taylor needs to make parenting decisions, she sometimes turns to a Facebook group called "Parenting in a Tech World."

Taylor's son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which she says causes him to "focus too much on certain things," including "anything with a screen."

Taylor, who is a single mother and lives in the Denver area, wanted him to have a smartphone, "but he hacked all the parental controls, sometimes he would stay up all night."

On "Parenting in a Tech World," which has 150,000 followers, she and other parents can find feedback on a wide range of topics, including when a child should be allowed to join social media sites, what to do if they are sending or receiving inappropriate text messages or pictures, and product recommendations such as a docking station that keeps devices out of children's rooms at night. Last year, Taylor bought a Pinwheel phone that comes with web browsers and restricts the use of social media. (She later joined the company full-time as a marketing director.)

Bark's businesswoman Jordan founded the group years ago after she joined the company as she struggled to find resources to help her raise her children. "It has always taken a village to be the best parent possible, and while we wait for the legislators and big tech companies to do the right thing, at the end of the day, no one is going to be a better parent to your child than you. The best. What you can do is learn from other parents who have been there and have done it, both in their mistakes and in their victories. "

However, on this topic, there are no easy answers. Social media and smartphones are here to stay, and taking them away could undermine a child's social relationships and sense of independence. According to Alexandra Hamlet, a clinical psychologist in New York City, it is important for parents to help teens navigate both the physical world and online, being understanding and non-judgmental. "If we can teach and support our children to use the same skills to navigate each world, we increase our chances of achieving mental health," he said.

Now there is a wide range of policy ideas being considered to help parents and children. Some critics, including Haugen, said tech companies should steer clear of algorithmic news sources that can lead users to the scam. Two Democratic senators have promoted legislation called the Kids Act, which would ban autoplay settings and send alerts in hopes of limiting screen time. And the Organization for Social Media Safety said it is now working with Congress to try to pass legislation requiring third-party parental monitoring apps on all social media accounts of children of a certain age.

Titania Jordan, an executive at Bark, started a Facebook group for parents to discuss the challenges associated with raising children in the digital age.

Some parents inside and outside of this Facebook group are already using parental control apps, as well as buying low-tech phones and limiting their use of social media.

Some have also gone so far as to try to get their children's schools to act on everything from banning phones in classrooms to cracking down on incidents of online bullying, with little success.

"It is a constant struggle"

Fernando Velloso, a father from Los Angeles, said his high school-age daughter dealt with an anonymous bullying account likely created by classmates who made false claims about her love life.

He said the school did not want to take action because it happened off its premises.

In a series of Instagram accounts from high schools in the area, which were seen by CNN, students are encouraged to submit gossip tips to accounts that called students cheats, rapists or questioned their sexuality.

While Instagram banned some of the accounts, others remain active.

(A Meta spokesperson said the accounts did not violate community guidelines, but various content did and were removed.)

Bermúdez said schools can do more to educate teens on how to better manage mental health and social media.

"We need to be taught at a very young age, like in elementary school, about how to use it and [make it] a safe space."

During her testimony, Haugen said schools and organizations like the National Institutes of Health should provide established information where parents can learn how to better support their children.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Social Media Safety is implementing a program with DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to be part of that curriculum in thousands of schools by the end of the current school year to educate the students about the dangers of social media.

Polak, the mother whose daughter had suicidal thoughts, proposed a Mental Health Awareness Week at her daughter's school that would include screenings of Childhood 2.0 and The Social Dilemma, two documentaries that touch on how platforms are impacting the well-being of its users.

Polak said her daughter is doing better now and occasionally accesses social media with time restrictions.

"But once a week we have a fight on social media, where she introduces me: 'When can I go back to Snapchat? When can I go back to TikTok?'

It's a constant struggle, and there's a lot of pressure from friends, good friends, to get back to using some of the apps. "

But one recent night, she found her daughter quietly playing with her family's cat for half an hour in her room.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, that's what's missing: the little everyday things that control our anxiety," she said.

"He is completely absent from teenage life at the moment."

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Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2021-12-08

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