It’s easy to blame social media for everything that’s wrong with our kids. Social media is instant, isolating, magnifying, comparative and seemingly everywhere.
It preys on all the self doubts that teens have by relentlessly parading seemingly happier, prettier, more popular versions of what they should be across their phone. What is often missed in the hand-wringing screeds about the evils of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter is that social media is also actually preventing our next generation from developing the basic emotional self-regulation skills they will need to have happy adult lives.
Due to the relentless nature of these sites, young adults do not spend time actually feeling any feelings through to the end and are therefore unable to develop understanding of the transient nature of emotions, nor the coping mechanisms necessary to navigate them. Algorithms designed to create connectedness become rabbit holes of despair, cutting and suicide that unsuspecting teens believe are rational reactions to their momentary sense of unhappiness.
In fact, many of the teens we see in counseling have never sat for an hour without their phone on. They have never actually sat through a feeling long enough to understand its origin (i.e., the external incident or the fears or irrational thoughts behind the feeling).
OTHER COLUMNS BY MAUREEN FORMAN
They cannot recognize the difference of degree between disappointment, sadness and despair; it is all intolerable to them and they seek to make it go away as fast as possible with substance abuse, eating, self harm or harming others.
Unless and until we begin to teach our children basic emotional self-regulation skills, they remain at the mercy of social media, which is geared only toward monetizing children as products for sale to advertisers, not towards developing them as healthy self-aware human beings.
Through the Mindfully Resilient grant from the RAP, JFS Desert is partnering with other mental health agencies to promote some basic self-calming and Cognitive Behavioral Health skills in the schools. Teaching students to use simple self-exploratory exercises like, “What am I thinking or doing right now that is making me feel worse?” and “What can I think or do right now, that will make me feel better?” is a simple start.
The health academies at Indio High School and Coachella Valley High School are teaching self-care and mind-body awareness, while SafeHouse of the Desert and One Future Coachella Valley are working toward increasing access to emergency counselors and building the next generation of mental health professionals.
All of us can and should do more to help our struggling young ones. We can’t just blame social media for wrecking our kids. We need to actually give them the solid emotional development tools they need to be alone with themselves, know themselves and like themselves.
If you are a parent, ask your child’s school what they are doing to teach emotional self-regulation or emotional self-care. Help your child walk through anxious feelings and develop ways to understand them, instead of simply acting them out. Let’s give the next generation a meaningful alternative to relying on Facebook to know whether they are “like”-able. Let’s decide to start developing healthy grown-ups.
Email Maureen Forman, LCSW, executive director of JFS Desert, at email@example.com.