As you observe your kids on social media, are you seeing them engaged in entertainment and social connection or are they engaged in distraction from boredom, anxiousness, or distress? Mental health counselor, Leah Jacobs, describes how parents can engage with their young ones in reflection creating mindfulness. What are we modeling in our own social media use?
Contact Leah: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the parents as learning coaches edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Parents and caregivers play many different roles, and even sometimes conflicting roles as they support children’s development. The pandemic has shown a light on the importance of parents supporting learners. In this podcast, I’ll share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner that can support your coaching efforts.
Steve: 00:36 Considering the impact of extensive social media use on youth. Joining the podcast today is Leah Jacobs. She is a licensed mental health counselor who has a background in training in dialectical behavior therapy. She’s worked in a variety of different environments, including outpatient and pediatric settings. She primarily works with youth and young adults dealing with anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Within recent years, Leah has seen an increase in social media use contributing greatly to mental health issues. Thanks for joining us, Leah.
Leah: 01:19 Thank you so much for having me here today, Steve, I appreciate it.
Steve: 01:22 There’s continuous concerns about youth and, and social media appearing in news ads and in social media. How do those reports align with your experiences with your clients?
Leah: 01:37 Yeah, it’s a great question and these concerns are absolutely valid, and I think there’s a lot of layers to all of this. So we’re seeing a huge uprising with the negative effects of social media use, directly impacting youth’s mental health. Specifically, in my experiences, I’ve noticed kids and adolescents utilizing a variety of different social media platforms. So Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok, not only as a source of entertainment, but also as this form of distraction or has a way to better tolerate boredom as a way to better tolerate distress. So it’s very easy for kids and adolescents to say, “ah, I’m feeling anxious right now. Let me pick up my phone and just avoid.” Another layer to this piece is that social media which, we’ll get into a little bit later, is always there, is very accessible for youth, and it involves that simple action of just picking up a smartphone and starting to scroll.
Steve: 02:41 Leah, I wanna check my my vocabulary, and you talked about social media being used for distraction. The word that jumped in my mind when I heard that is the word soothing. So is it a form of soothing – if there something that’s bothering me and I can avoid what it is that’s bothering me by the distraction of the social media?
Leah: 03:07 Absolutely. It’s a tool that I see a lot of teens and kids gravitating to because it is this self-soothing tool. And a little bit later we’ll get into how social media isn’t an effective self-soothing coping mechanism, because again, every time we log-on to social media platforms, we’re not only being exposed to forms of entertainment, but we’re being exposed to things that could be potentially quite triggering. So I think teens and kids lack that understanding of, is this really a self soothing tool? Am I really getting what I need out of using Facebook, TikTok Snapchat?
Steve: 03:49 So, would you label some of the negative outcomes that tend to emerge from extensive time on social media?
Leah: 03:57 One of the biggest negative outcomes that we see are lack of consent. So every time someone chooses to log into their social media platform, we’re no longer consenting to the material we’re about to see. And a lot of times that leaves us with
feeling quite triggered with the material that we see online. Again, each time we scroll, we’re starting to see things that we might not agree with or that might trigger us. Another layer to the negative effects is manipulation through the algorithm that social media platforms use. So a lot of times social media platforms, and they’ve been very forthcoming with this as well, are gonna show you material that they know is going to grasp your attention and keep you on that app for a little bit longer.
Steve: 04:47 I wanna check, because as I’m listening to you, I am kind of shaking inside, catching myself
Leah: 05:33 Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a really great point to add, is, I kind of frame it as us getting stuck in the rabbit hole of social media, and I really describe it as like a vicious cycle of social media. It’s something that we know could be potentially harming our ourselves or harming our mental health by continuing to read or continuing to look at this triggering content that we see on social media, but we can’t look away, we can’t stop reading. There’s this allure that gravitates us to wanting to keep going. And I think if adults are struggling with that, it makes a lot of sense that teens and adolescents would struggle with that even more so.
Steve: 06:12 So then the algorithm catches that I stayed on that and sends me more of it.
Leah: 06:17 Absolutely. And that’s where that manipulation word kind of comes into play of, there’s this manipulation happening through the algorithm where they’re catching what you’re spending a significant amount of time on and what you’re reading about
or liking or clicking on, and then they’re gonna send you more of that material because they know it’s gonna cause you to spend that extra time on their platform, which they want.
Steve: 06:44 I know that I’ve frequently seen material about students’ low self-esteem, I guess especially female students and that connection to social media. Have you run into that with your clients?
Leah: 07:02 Absolutely. And I think girls and young women in particular, is the population that I see being harmed the most. So I think a piece to add about that is not everything that we see online on social media is the truth and it’s not always real. We now have things like editing and filters where we’re seeing very misleading images, and this specifically impacts girls and young women with their sense of body image, where they’re just continually being presented with this fictitious image through filters and Photoshop and editing, sort of repetitively, where we see this sort of anxious spiral of thought occurring when they’re presented with those images. “Why don’t I look like this? What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t my life look like this?” So it deeply contributes to this low sense of self-worth, low sense of body image that’s specifically targeting young girls and young women.
Steve: 08:03 So I’m wondering if you could offer some first-step strategies for parents, and I’m wondering if we could kind of tackle this from two perspectives. Maybe we look first at what’s guidance for parents from a prevention standpoint and after you talk about that, then maybe we jump in – what’s guidance if if I’m trying to fix a problem? I can already tell that my youngster has too much time into that social media – I’m guessing that’s a different strategy at that point than the prevention one. Does that make sense if we take that approach?
Leah: 08:44 Yeah, absolutely.
Steve: 08:46 Start with the prevention one, then. What guidelines would you give parents from a prevention standpoint?
Leah: 08:51 From a prevention standpoint, I go to this idea of harm reduction. The goal here isn’t to completely eliminate social media use. How can we reduce harm when adolescents are using social media? And a lot of times this looks like sitting down
with your child, your teen, understanding what platforms they use, really trying to have a open dialogue with them about which ones do they enjoy, which ones do they know cause a little bit of distress? Kind of open up this reflective dialogue. There’s a wonderful term that actually stems out of dialectical behavioral therapy called “mindfulness.” And mindfulness is an approach of teaching individuals to be more present-center and present minded. A lot of times, when we’re struggling specifically with anxiety and depression, our focus is either on the past or on the future. So mindfulness is this tool to help get us into the present moment, and I think we can apply the sense of mindfulness to social media use and, and parents really kind of helping take the lead on that by asking reflective questions.
Leah: 10:00 How is this helpful to me right now? Has using the social media platform become unhelpful? What am I using social media for right now? Am I using it to connect? Am I using it to enjoy, to relax, to learn, or am I using it to distract, to avoid, to compare? And these are great prompting questions that I think parents can give kids that opens the door to preventing unhealthy social media use, is really just showcasing how can we get you to think a little more critically every time you log into this social media platform and just staying mindful with it. If you’ve been on it for over an hour or two, these are some great questions you can start asking yourself. I kind of like to frame it as, we’re sort of teaching kids to put a detective hat on and start dissecting their behaviors a little bit.
Steve: 10:52 How about if we flip to, I realize there’s a problem, I know that it’s gotten away and my youngster’s spending too much time. I can tell you I’ve heard from parents as young as second graders saying they can’t take the technology away, so how do parents begin to to step in at that point?
Leah: 11:18 I think a lot of it becomes modeling boundaries and parents really being in the driver’s seat to model what does healthy social media use look like? I think being transparent and voicing to your child, “you know, I’ve noticed I’ve been on Facebook a little bit too much this week. I’m gonna take a break from it and put my phone down for a little bit.” Really being open and transparent of setting those boundaries kind of helps plant the seed for kids of, okay, Dad and Mom are taking a break. They’re not glued to their phones for four to five hours straight. I see them putting that phone down. I see them reading, going outside, engaging in hobbies. I think modeling is a huge, huge piece to not only the prevention standpoint, but also just a starting point for parents. Just to add to that as well, another approach is, no phones during dinnertime – modeling and putting that away. Kids will take in all this input and they’ll kind of try it on themselves. But really being conscious of what we’re doing, how we’re modeling behaviors to kids and really putting those boundaries in place is really important here.
Steve: 12:29 Boy, you rang a bell there for me with my with my grandkids Frequently, my visits are are an out to dinner time, and one of their favorites is a spot where you cook your own soup and and grill your dinner at the table. So you come in, sit around the table and they bring you everything. And the first time that I took them there, I realized how different mealtime was, because in lots of others, they’re on their on their technology before they’ve looked at the menu. But this one, we go through a two hour dinner and nobody’s glanced because they’re busy.
Leah: 13:14 Mm-Hmm.
Steve: 13:15 So the concept of the need for the other activities and to get kids into those other activities actually creates a natural boundary.
Leah: 13:29 Absolutely. And I think with social media and the amount of time that we’re seeing kids and adolescents spend on it, the less time they’re having engaging in what are actual coping mechanisms. So engaging in a hobby, going outside, reading,
whereas, spending hours on end on social media, it’s not a coping skill. It’s not a way to self-soothe. And a lot of times it’s a source of becoming triggered and worsening our anxiety, worsening our depression. We’re kind of staying, like we said earlier, stuck and in that rabbit hole, that vicious cycle of social media use.
Steve: 14:08 Well, Leah, I appreciate you you sharing your insights and experiences with us here. I’m wondering if you’re comfortable giving away that parents with questions might connect or touch base with you?
Leah: 14:21 Absolutely. I invite any and all questions. I can be reached at my email, email@example.com.
Steve: 14:29 Alright. We’ll be sure to include that in the in the lead-in to the podcast for folks.
Leah: 14:34 Excellent.
Steve: 14:35 Thank you.
Leah: 14:36 Thank you so much, Steve. Appreciate it.
Steve [Outro]: 14:40 Thanks for listening in, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.