Advice & Features Articles

Bridging the Digital Generation Gap

teenagers looking at their phone

By Dr. Dean Beckloff | Contributor

It’s quite typical and happens with each generation – “What’s this younger generation coming to!” I remember being the recipient of it when I was young, and I’ve continued to hear the complaint about the next generation through the years. 

I believe we’ve all been concerned about social media, and the amount of time that teens are spending on it. With the advent of smart phones, social media has exploded. I hear from parents constantly how much their teens are on their phones using these apps, and how much time teens are spending on gaming, as well parents’ concerns for their teens’ well-being and mental health.

Some have coined now what is called social media depression, which “refers to a clinical depression that results from the intensity, pressure, and eventual isolation stemming from social media use” (Barnes & Wills, Understanding Mental Illness). It sure does sound familiar to a number of us adults. The parents I speak to in our counseling center are frankly worried about their kids. “They are spending a ton of time on their electronics, and not much else is happening in their lives! They won’t do anything else,” is the cry we hear. One of their desperate concerns is the isolation they see in their teen. Their teens appear to be in a bad mood or depressed, are not getting the sleep they need, and seem irritable much of the time.

We know this isn’t good…our kids are suffering, they’re depressed—something we’d never planned on encountering with our child. Taking action is what is called for to help our teens who may be in trouble. 

Your teen may be spending an inordinate amount of time posting pictures, instead of really being with people. He or she may be spending too much time on that smart phone, checking obsessively the different social media platforms to see the number of ‘likes’ they are getting. They may be overly concerned about their appearance, feeling like they don’t meet the standard for looking good. They just seem to be comparing themselves over and over—and feeling like they are falling short. And meanwhile, their grades are slipping, and they’re not getting with any real people outside of the electronic world!

Let’s remember, our teens need guidance. They don’t need condemnation. Our teens need our insight and our discussion. They need help if they’re depressed, not finger pointing at social media and electronics. Certainly, our teens live in a different world from the one I grew up in and perhaps the one you grew up in. The pressures are unique. The stressors they experience are quite different. But that’s neither good or bad, it just is. Our teens need our guidance and our listening ears as they try to balance a ‘brave new world.’ And as parents we need to help our teens through this struggle to grow up and into independent adults.

What’s a parent to do? Perhaps all of us are struggling to learn about this brave new world, in order to help our teens grow and mature. I believe that we need to put our heads together, obtain new research, and keep learning. Here are a few tips on how to positively communicate with your teen about social media use:

1) Don’t negate or complain about the teen’s world, what they’re engaging in, and the world of social media/electronics. Again, they need our helping hand not our pointing finger. The teen needs your understanding.

2) Put on the listening ear. Talk, but then listen. I love the statement, “most of us listen in order to respond instead of listening to understand.” Know the difference. You may have a point to make, but first understand, and then speak that understanding back to your teen to ensure you’ve understood. Your teen will feel understood, and therefore cared about.

3) Honor and respect what your teen knows and the values they are already demonstrating. At times, parents are so surprised to hear what is coming out of their teen’s mouth when they are given a chance to speak at our counseling center. Your teen has some deep understanding, and given the chance, may surprise you with what they believe to be true—in a good way.

4) Give your own feedback, and what you believe, calmly and surely without a great deal of emotion. Your teen may reject what you say, but your words will have their influence. Again, don’t be critical of your son or daughter, just state your guidance of what you think would be helpful—and then allow that to sink in and sift through their thinking. Your advice and guidance will help your teen as they navigate in their world.

5) If you think your teen is addicted to their platforms and electronics, get some help through counseling. They need exactly what counseling is: face to face with another human being, relating and discussing and processing—together. 

6) If you see the signs of depression, get help. Get them in front of a counselor who may be able to help them reason and work out solutions to the problems they are experiencing with electronics/social media.

7) Watch your own social media habits. How much time are you on social media? Remember to model the behavior you wish to see in your teen.

Surely with a better understanding about each other, we can find our way through this new world of electronics, gaming, and social media. This generation is a generation of promise, with high hopes—and we can be proud of them and the decisions they are making. I believe in them, and in the help they will be giving to each other, and to this world of ours. 

Editor’s Note: Dr. Dean Beckloff is the founder of The Beckloff Pediatric Behavior Center.  Reach him at 972.250.1700 or www.drbeckloff.com.

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