Karen Casey Coaching

Raising Confident Tweens & Teens in the Digital Age

So much has been written about kids and the digital age that I hesitate to add my voice to the topic. There is a great deal of wisdom out there about all things digital and our children. Many in my age range who grew up in a pre-internet world share this sentiment – I am so glad social media wasn’t around when I was a teen!! The research coming out from various professional avenues has a similar message – our kids are struggling. The statistics are not surprising to teachers, coaches, and school administrators. They deal on a daily basis with students who are stressed, anxious, and those who are dealing with a variety of mental health issues. The challenges are widespread and cut across socioeconomic and geographical lines. I spoke last week with a teacher friend in a European country sharing challenges with her high school students and if I hadn’t known better, she could have been describing a classroom here in Tennessee.

What we know

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) to monitor health behaviors in our young people. Many states and school systems use this survey, and you may find the results for your state on their website. The survey has four areas of focus: experiencing violence, sexual behavior, high-risk substance use, and mental health/suicide numbers. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading the headlines in our media to know that young people are hurting and struggling. While Covid exacerbated the problems, it did not cause them. These problems started years before the pandemic.
Over the last 20 years in the secondary classroom, I observed the increasing stress and anxiety my students were dealing with. Kids who lack resilience and confidence. Kids who are increasingly dependent on their devices. Kids who are dependent on parents to get them out of scrapes and problems. Kids who are joyless and part of the rat race due to overbooked lives and high expectations. Kids experience much of their lives through their digital devices and this increases with every new social media platform they use.

I have witnessed kids who appear to be very successful but deep down are sad. They feel pressure to excel by parents, the culture, and other influences. Because kids don’t want to disappoint their parents, they can become very good at hiding their true feelings and experiences. As I taught writing to older teens, I often saw in their journals those deep feelings of struggle. Their worries about school shootings, our political divisions, not to mention worries about things at home and their social circles were often the things they wrote about. A mom of a 12-year-old recently asked me what challenges I saw my students face. I spoke honestly though it is hard for many adults to believe how early the temptations begin. Vaping, sexting (sending sexually explicit selfies), cyberbullying, cutting, and the list goes. Not every young person uses these ways to cope with life, but you would be surprised by how many young people experiment and involve themselves in unhealthy habits.
My experience in working with families for the last three decades is that while therapy can be helpful, tweens and teens often push back on professional help. That is not to say it isn’t needed because it is. As an educator, I have been coaching young people my entire career. It is the reason I chose to move into a coaching role formally. I have seen how coaching can support parents and their children as they grow together and come up with solutions for their lives.

The good news

Fortunately, there are many things we as parents can do to help our children with the problems they might face. Kids haven’t changed since we were kids and have the same needs we had – connection, limits, support, and independence. Actively working to meet those needs during the teen years is worth our investment of time. Collaborating with other adults in the lives of our children will lighten the load. Coaches, teachers, youth leaders, and family members that are healthy and encouraging can be part of the team that helps you as you parent. It also helps to be in community yourself so that you don’t drive yourself crazy with worries.
Spending a great deal of time on digital devices shortens our children’s childhood. I believe that because I have seen it over and over again in young people I have worked with. The exposure to ridiculous beauty standards, sexualized ads, articles, and the often messed up lives of those with public lives causes our kids to live in their heads. Unless parents or other adults are actively talking with their kids about these topics so much goes unchecked.

Efforts to Minimize the Influence of Social Media

It is interesting to see celebrity parents sharing how social media won’t be part of their child’s life until much later when they can better handle it. Those whose careers are further exposed on social media are the ones saying, “Not my child.” The ‘Wait Until 8th’ pledge has seen over 50,000 parents saying yes to waiting on smartphones for their children. By banding together, parents decrease the pressure to have a phone at an early age. The smartphone is changing childhood for our children. Playing outdoors, reading books, and hanging out with family and friends happens a lot less when hours of YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat become part of their lives. I could share countless stories of sitting with parents and hearing how their child is addicted to their smartphone and video games. Check out www.waituntil8th.org for more information to consider.
We can help our children hang onto childhood if we are willing to make hard (and sometimes lonely) decisions on behalf of our kids. Your influence as a parent is huge. Never forget that you are capable of making a difference in the lives of your teens that will impact them for a lifetime. Deeper connections, setting limits, and lots of support can hold off painful difficulties. Those deeper connections with your tweens/teens will also pay off when problems do come.

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