How are you reading this article right now? On your phone? Tablet? Likely because you came across this article on one of your social media feeds. As your life right now likely illustrates, access to screens and, subsequently, to social media has increased tremendously in recent years and is now nearly ubiquitous. Accordingly, children are growing up immersed in a culture in which social connection, information and entertainment are available at one’s fingertips. There are many positive aspects to the level of connection and access technology and social media afford children, including opportunities to easily connect with friends and learn and expand their awareness and horizons beyond their local environment. But like with any activity, there can be negative components of children’s access to social media and screens–particularly when they are overused. What We Know (Or Rather What We Don’t!) While it is understandable that many parents are worried about the impact of social media on their children, it is also important to be a cautious and critical consumer of dramatic headlines about the impacts of social media. At present, there is still fairly limited research on the impact of social media usage on children. Additionally, many of the studies that have been conducted are “correlational” in nature, meaning while the study tells us that two things (such as social media use and anxiety) appear to be related, it cannot tell us the “direction” of that relationship, or which one causes the other. For example, a number of studies have found that high Facebook use is correlated with symptoms of depression; therefore, while using Facebook could lead someone to feel more sad, it could also be that individuals who are already somewhat depressed spend more time isolated and using social media, rather than going out and engaging with others. One increasingly studied area is the potential relationship between heavy social media use and anxiety. Though there is still no conclusive evidence, researchers and clinicians have proposed that anxiety and heavy social media use may have a reciprocal relationship. Specifically, children and teens more prone to social anxiety may use social media in part to avoid the potentially challenging or awkward moments that can come up in face to face interactions with peers. In the short run, this is an effective way to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions, however, in the long run, these children and teens are deprived of the opportunity to learn to navigate challenging social situations. They also do not get the chance to learn how to cope with the uncomfortable emotions that may result from challenging interactions such as anxiety or shame. Over time, this lack of practice may lead to deficits both in social skills and emotion regulation abilities, which could, in turn, cause the child to further avoid real life social interactions. Healthy Social Media Use Monitoring a child’s social media usage is a new parenting challenge. Luckily, the principles behind teaching your child how to responsibly use and engage withRead More
Your child’s feelings and behaviors are influenced by how they think about the world around them. As a parent, you can help your child avoid unhelpful interpretations of events: thinking traps. Getting stuck in thinking traps can make your child feel overly anxious and act against their own best interests. Kids can fall into habits with how they think. Their self-talk is so automatic, they may barely notice. You may need to work with them to identify their typical unhelpful self-talk as a step in the process of teaching alternative, more helpful thinking. See this post for guidance in identifying anxious self-talk. Just the other day we heard Ella complain that her parents never punished her younger sister Lucy. Ella sounded angry and she went right over and hit her sister. Well, you can guess what happened next. Yep, Ella was sent to her room. Although the middle of an upset is not a good time to teach alternative ways of thinking, after all was calm, Ella’s parents talked to her about her thinking traps. Black-and-White Thinking They pointed out that she had recently been using the word NEVER in her statements. They taught her that these kinds of extreme words result in BLACK-and-WHITE thinking. They helped her challenge her unhelpful thoughts with alternatives. They reminded Ella of all the shades of grey between black and white; how, as the older child, she is held to a higher standard, but she is also given more privileges. As they talked with Ella, she began to seem less envious of her sister and appreciative of the nuances of how parents relate to siblings of different ages. Many children use BLACK-and-WHITE thinking in a self-critical way, such as “I’m not good at math.” These statements are extreme and describe a permanent state of affairs. While it is not necessary to state the opposite (I’m good at math), less extreme and less permanent self-talk are both helpful and hopeful. When a child falls into a thinking trap and describes themselves as not smart, not athletic, or the like, talk with them about challenging these BLACK-and-WHITE, SELF-CRITICAL thoughts. For example, “no one will want me in the play after that mistake” could be changed to “The audience didn’t seem to notice that I skipped some words.” By changing FOREVER thoughts to FOR NOW thoughts, children develop a more open, flexible, and realistic mindset. “I always get put on the losing team” is a stuck, FOREVER thought. Change this FOREVER thought to a FOR NOW thought such as “I’ll be at the top of my age group next season.” Catastrophic Thinking Theo missed blocking a shot in soccer and went home with such CATASTROPHIC thinking that he believed he would never play any sport again! CATASTROPHIC thoughts are like snowballs that grow as they roll down the hill picking up snow along the way. This style of thinking involves predicting the future. “If I raise my hand and get the answer wrong, I’ll be soRead More
Help Your Little Worrier Stay Calm
A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers helps children understand what worries are and what to do when they are feeling worried. From verses that demonstrate body awareness to coping strategies for kids, A Feel Better Book is not only enjoyable for children to read, but also helpful for both children and caregivers. To learn more about how you can help your child cope with worries, check out our article Stress Management Exercises for Anxious Children.
Think of the last time you felt anxious. Whether you were dreading an upcoming work presentation, worrying about finances, or thinking about an impending doctor’s appointment, you likely experienced an urge to avoid the stressor in some way, perhaps by procrastinating, thinking about something else, or putting off the appointment. Avoiding anxiety provoking situations is a hard-wired human instinct that can be very helpful at times, such as keeping us from walking down an isolated dark alley alone at night. However, avoidance can also be a slippery slope-particularly when it is a child’s primary way of coping with worry.Read More