Wising up about Cell Phones, Internet and the Teenage Brain
Shelly is an active mom and has one daughter in middle school. Shelly came to my office extremely upset. She had just gotten her phone bill.
Her 7th grade daughter had sent three thousand texts in the past month and most of them were from midnight to 4 am on school nights.
This was unthinkable to Shelly and she felt extremely hurt and betrayed. Mom was caught unaware because she didn’t have a cell phone when she was her daughter’s age. She didn’t think about the addictive side of technology, combined with a teenager’s impulsivity.
Shelly quickly learned that this wasn’t personal, but her daughter needed her to put the brakes on with the cell phone.
Mom told her daughter to keep her cell phone out of her room when she went to bed.
The Problem with Quantity
There are recent studies that your average teenager spends 40 plus hours a week in front of a screen. This is damaging to the amazing teenage brain. Technology is described as “junk food for the mind.” It is empty brain calories.
Video games are not a substitute for real life. You are still a couch potato if you play tennis, ski, race cars, or dance with Michael Jackson on the wii. One of my clients told me about his roommate who played a new video game for 40 hours in 3 days. This guy barely ate or went to the bathroom for 3 days and was wasted on video games.
Your daughter needs you to limit technology because of the addictive quality of it.
The Problem with Content
I used to joke about middle school girls having very small brains because of some of the choices they made. This is especially true with media. When I was in High School I would write my feelings in my private diary that I could lock. Now girls post pictures and videos on the internet for everyone to see and don’t think about future ramifications. They think it’s funny posting pictures of their friend’s drunk or smoking weed. They trash their teachers and gossip over twitter. They send boys pictures of their breasts or other body parts because they asked for it. These young girls desperately need you to protect them.
Mean Spirited Media
Cyber bullying is a big problem for girls.
Girls minimize the mean things they are doing because they think it’s funny. For example, they deceive the quiet girl by creating false identities on the internet, like pretending to be a popular boy who is interested in her.
Girls justify saying mean things because someone was mean to them. Now they take their anger and drama to the World Wide Web.
Making fun of people on the internet has become what girls do. They laugh at girls pictures and say their fat or watch you tube videos with the intent to ridicule. I had one very sweet 16 year old girl really upset because her best friend would look at facebook pictures and make fun of girls. My client didn’t know how to handle it.
Your girls don’t know how to handle the internet. They don’t know what to do if they are victim of cyber bullying or around others that do. They are ignorant of the consequences if they are the perpetrators. Teen girls need to be monitored and educated about what is appropriate to post and what is not.
Frequently girls are prompted by a boy to do sexually inappropriate things on phones, skyping or internet. This starts as early as sixth grade. Girls for the most part don’t look for pornography they are dragged into it. They may accidentally find themselves in a porn site or chat room because they are looking for love in all the wrong places.
It used to be your daughter had to sneak out of the house to be sexual, but today she can be sexual when she is alone in her room skyping, sexting, or taking selfies pictures. Your daughter needs you to educate her and monitor her media usage especially at night.
Starbucks is one of my favorite writing hangouts. Once when I was engrossed in my work, I was distracted by 4 kids working on a school project. They sat at a table with 4 laptops open, while they simultaneously texted, and laughed.
Chronic distraction has become the new normal for this generation of teens. This is a huge source of frustration for moms. It’s hard to get your daughters full attention when she is texting under the table at family dinners. You know that doing homework while you are constantly texting is not productive. Your daughter will argue that multi-tasking is normal and she can handle this, but is this true?
You cannot give quality attention to 2 things at once. Teens have learned to shift their attention rapidly from one thing to another but they are still focusing on 1 thing at a time.
The problem with multitasking is that you lose speed, accuracy and efficiency. Chronic distraction takes a toll on homework, relationships and school performance. It will come to you as no surprise that texting in the classroom decreases concentration and focus.
It’s important to eliminate and minimize the distractions of media. This is a crucial time for teens to develop focused uninterrupted attention in the prefrontal cortex.
Problem with Relationships
Your daughter invites a friend to spend the night. They sit in the same room texting other friends and surfing the net. They barely talk to each other. Social media is replacing face to face conversations.
Research has found that every hour we sit at our computers our face to face interaction drops by 30 minutes. This results in ignoring the people around you, even your best friend. This causes big problems for brain development. This is a critical time for the teenage brain to wire networks for communication skills, empathic listening and the ability to interpret and respond to non verbal cues. All of these skills take practice.
When girls hang out and talk face to face it relieves stress. This is because of the neurotransmitters and hormones that are released. Your daughter’s brain is wired for connection and is driven by the hormone oxytocin to grow close through talking and sharing feelings. This creates a sense of intimacy, bonding, trust and connectedness. The brain also releases dopamine which is extremely powerful by stimulating the brains pleasure center. This makes girls feel good. The combination of the oxytocin and dopamine makes girls feel good while significantly lowering their stress levels.
They are not going to get the same results through texting
Make sure you have clear rules about media and cell phones. Limit the amount of hours on the internet or texting. Install parental controls on the computer. Don’t let your middle school girls go to bed with their phones, iPads or computers. Leave those outside her room. Have an open door policy. Tell her she can be on facebook or twitter if you are her friend. This way you can monitor where she has been.
She needs you to be the brakes.